EDITORIAL: Excessive force incidents demand action now


Family Court is where marriages end, child custody and support are decided, and many juveniles answer for criminal conduct. There is drama and unhappiness to spare.

The last thing stressed-out and emotional litigants need to deal with is a jack-booted security presence with a propensity for unprovoked violence and civil rights violations. Yet with each passing week, it becomes more and more clear that Clark County Family Court marshals are unsupervised, unaccountable and out of control.

The Review-Journal’s Jeff German has reported on several excessive force incidents involving Family Court marshals and allegations of subsequent cover-ups. Lawsuits already have cost taxpayers dearly. A grand jury is investigating the entire force, and the FBI has hauled away boxes of human resources files on the marshals. Among the most egregious allegations: a woman being choked by the head marshal while restrained in a chair in a holding cell, and a woman being groped — and arrested for daring to say so.

On Thursday, Mr. German reported the details of a new lawsuit, filed this week, and a settlement from last year. Both cases involved the same marshal: Brent Johnson.

In the settled case, Johnson was accused of striking from behind and tackling 66-year-old William Beaver outside the Family Court entrance in 2007. Witnesses said Johnson was the aggressor, reacting only to Mr. Beaver’s verbal complaints about security. Mr. Beaver was badly hurt and hauled off to jail, where he spent several days without ever being charged with a crime.

In the new case, Johnson is accused of slamming then-Henderson resident Peter Peterson to a concrete floor because Johnson didn’t like the man’s attitude. Mr. Peterson said the incident caused facial fractures, head contusions and spinal injuries. Witnesses interviewed for Mr. Peterson’s lawsuit said he was not unruly or combative. Two witnesses actually called 911 to request medical help for Mr. Peterson. No criminal charges against Mr. Peterson resulted from the court confrontation.

So how in the world does Johnson still have a job? How was he allowed to hurt at least one additional Southern Nevadan after the incident involving Mr. Beaver? Recall that in March, Steve Rushfield, the man at the center of the choking incident who oversaw all Family Court marshals, demoted himself. Rushfield is still a Family Court marshal.

Federal investigations often take years to result in charges, let alone trial. Southern Nevadans can’t wait that long for changes in Family Court. Judges need to provide some reassurance to the public that they’re safe inside Family Court.

 

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