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Editorial: Police cater to celebrities, crack down on critics


You can’t fix stupid. Las Vegas police are acting out their own version of “Dumb and Dumber,” and it’s not funny — especially not when Sheriff Doug Gillespie wants to increase the Clark County sales tax rate to bail out his department’s budget.

He’ll have a hard time persuading commissioners to give him more money when his supposedly strapped force is giving VIP helicopter rides to celebrities and treating sidewalk chalk users like property-destroying taggers.

The sheriff’s very bad week started Sunday, when the Review-Journal’s Mike Blasky reported that Guns N’ Roses guitarist DJ Ashba and his girlfriend were given an aerial tour of the valley aboard a department chopper. Mr. Ashba posted photos and descriptions of the Saturday ride on social media.

Irony alert: According to Mr. Ashba’s posting, the ride was set up by Capt. David O’Leary, who oversees — wait for it — the Financial Crimes Bureau. And the ride was allowed despite last month’s death of Search and Rescue officer David VanBuskirk, who was killed on Mount Charleston when he fell while being hoisted to a helicopter.

When the chopper landed, a table with champagne and roses had been set up so Mr. Ashba could propose marriage to Colombian model and actress Nathalia Henao. We’re guessing the celebrity couple could afford a private helicopter operator, instead of taking taxpayers for a ride. The incident is under internal investigation.

A national PR gaffe is one thing. Cracking down on criticism of the department is another matter entirely.

On Wednesday, the Review-Journal’s Francis McCabe reported four people face up to a year in jail for the crime of criticizing Las Vegas police — by writing with washable chalk.

Kelly Wayne Patterson, Brian Ballentine, Hailee Jewell and Catalino de la Cruz face multiple gross misdemeanor graffiti counts for scribbling on the sidewalks outside police headquarters and the Regional Justice Center last month. The messages ranged from the thoughtful (“Not one single cop in Metro’s entire history has been charged after shooting someone. Even if that person was unarmed and/or innocent.”) to the vulgar (“[Expletive] the police.)” Both expressions enjoy the protection of the First Amendment.

But instead of leaving the chalk messages alone, or allowing them to be swept away by the next rain or worn down by pedestrian traffic, police called the city graffiti abatement team. In the kind of overkill typical of government, workers used a power washer to remove the chalk, even though a single cup of spilled coffee had erased one obscene statement.

“My bet is a good stiff broom would have done the same thing,” said defense attorney Robert Langford, who is representing the defendants pro bono.

The city’s trumped-up bill for power washing the chalk was $1,550! Had the cost been kept below $250, the charges would have been misdemeanors instead of gross misdemeanors.

Of course, the power washers wouldn’t have been used in the first place if the protesters had written messages supportive of police. That would have gotten them a free helicopter ride.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson needs to drop this case, regardless of the obscenity. It was chalk, for heaven’s sake. And Mr. Gillespie appears to be in need of his own broom — to sweep the brainless knuckleheads out of his department before they waste even more of our money.

 

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