EDITORIAL: Family Court house of horrors


The video footage is troubling for what it doesn’t show.

Clark County Family Court marshals have been accused of multiple incidents of excessive force and related cover-ups, disturbing allegations that spawned a federal investigation and the suspension of a former supervisor. But two Family Court security video clips from almost six years ago, revealed this month in a new court filing, show no confrontation whatsoever.

That’s important because John Conforte, now a 46-year-old Burbank, Calif., resident, was accused by marshals of being abusive and “out of control” that day — accusations that led to his gross misdemeanor conviction of battery on an officer and a lesser finding of resisting an officer. As reported Monday by the Review-Journal’s Jeff German, Mr. Conforte hopes the video footage of him being calmly escorted through the Family Court building leads to those convictions being overturned.

Mr. Conforte was in the building that day to pick up a restraining order packet. Marshals claimed Mr. Conforte was verbally hostile toward them, so he was taken into custody. Mr. Conforte alleges he was beaten and stunned with a stun gun while handcuffed, and that Steve Rushfeld, the suspended marshal at the center of the federal investigation, participated in that beating.

Rushfeld is in the video footage, some of which shows a hallway where Mr. Conforte is on the floor, but out of the camera’s view. Mr. Conforte’s lawyer, Chris Rasmussen, says that was a “camera dead spot,” so there’s no footage of the force used against his client. Coincidental?

One disturbing nexus between Mr. Conforte’s case and one in which Rushfeld is accused of choking Crystal Williams while she was restrained in 2010: Rushfeld’s alleged choice of words. Mr. Conforte claims Rushfeld told him “This is my f—-ing house. How do you feel now, tough guy?” Ms. Williams says Rushfeld, while grabbing her throat, said, “You’re in my house, bitch. Shut the f—- up.”

The larger common denominator, however, is the response of marshals to what amounts to “contempt of cop.” Multiple court filings allege marshals have, in recent years, physically attacked, threatened and intimidated anyone who might have shown disrespect to the court officers. For all the allegations made in public documents and reported by Mr. German, how many more cases have gone unreported? How many people have been frightened into silence after suffering injustice?

The line from the county’s court system hasn’t changed. It doesn’t comment on personnel matters. It doesn’t comment on pending litigation. If no one on the administrative side will step forward to reassure the taxpaying public that they’re safe in Family Court and that wrongdoing by marshals won’t be tolerated, elected Family Court judges must fill the void. Are citizens expected to surrender their rights at the Family Court security screening? Whose house is it?

 

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