Patricia Martinelli-Price never figured her unsettled 21-month dispute with the Las Vegas Township constable’s office over an impounded Mercedes would end up on YouTube.
The Las Vegas Township constable recently posted on the video-sharing website a clip of a recorded visit deputies made in June 2011 to her residence to address her complaint about the towed vehicle.
He did so to defend the office from Martinelli-Price’s complaint that constable deputies acted like “thugs.”
That complaint was aired at the Feb. 19 Clark County Commission meeting, when her letter to commission Chairman Steve Sisolak outlining concerns about the constable’s handling of her case was read into the record.
Martinelli-Price said she didn’t know she was videotaped as deputies visited her in her home, adding that the posted video makes her feel “violated.”
“We would not have allowed it,” she said of the taping. “They did it maliciously behind our backs, and that’s my concern, because why would they do that? We did absolutely nothing wrong.”
For his part, Constable John Bonaventura defended the actions, saying in an interview that deputies don’t need to tell people when they are videotaped and that the posted video was needed to clear up misinformation.
The clip, posted online on Feb. 25, comes as Bonaventura is trying to weather more than just a complaint over a vehicle. County commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would abolish the constable’s office when Bonaventura’s term ends in 2015.
His office, which has about 42 deputies and primarily serves legal paperwork and handles evictions, has fallen under scrutiny for varied reasons that include a venture into reality television, hiring deputies with questionable backgrounds, and jurisdictional disputes with neighboring constables.
With the future of his political office in jeopardy, Bonaventura has taken his fight to YouTube, where he is trying to sway public opinion and cast the actions of his deputies in a favorable light.
In June 2011, Martinelli-Price says she reported to the Metropolitan Police Department that her white 1979 Mercedes Benz 240D was missing and was referred to the constable’s office for more information.
Her husband, Danny Ray, was working on the car, which was parked on the street in front of their home, before the constable’s office had it towed.
Both sides give differing accounts of the circumstances of the vehicle’s removal.
Bonaventura said the vehicle was towed after his deputies responded to a complaint from neighbors citing concerns about children possibly playing in the vehicle, which had a broken sunroof.
A check of the vehicle’s license plates found it had plates registered to a different car, he said. That allowed the constable’s office to authorize a towing to remove the vehicle, which had no registered owner, Bonaventura said, adding that his office tows between 100 and 300 vehicles a month.
Martinelli-Price said the constable’s claim about phony license plates on the vehicle isn’t correct.
Furthermore, she said, her attempts to gain information about the car’s whereabouts were repeatedly rebuffed by the constable’s office, despite months of phone calls.
Her husband was fixing the Mercedes to give to a family in need, she said.
According to the constable’s office, its towing company, SNAP Towing, legally claimed possession of the car in November 2011 and, because of its condition, sold the vehicle to a wrecking company to cover towing expenses.
THEN CAME THE CAMERA
Fast-forward to February, when the constable’s office came under the county’s scrutiny for a variety of reasons.
Martinelli-Price sent a letter to Sisolak, which county staff read at the Feb. 18 meeting as a courtesy because she was unable to attend.
In that letter, she describes four officers from the constable’s office coming to her home and acting like “thugs.”
In an interview, she said they loudly banged on her door. She told them to leave because her husband wasn’t home and to return the next day, she said.
The next day, two deputies arrived. One had a camera, although none of them informed Martinelli-Price.
The couple and Bonaventura agree on at least one point: The deputies didn’t ask seek permission before taping.
“They didn’t ask anybody’s permission,” Bonaventura said, adding that all his deputies carry smart phones equipped with video cameras.
In the video, a constable’s deputy, Travis Field, stands with the office’s seal hanging behind him, introducing the footage as “today’s episode of For the Record.”
In the video, two deputies in a vehicle arrive at her residence. Much of the video inside the home is shaky and dark. They talk in the living room during a five-minute visit.
After Martinelli-Price lets them into her house, one deputy is heard explaining to her that the license plates had checked back to a Lincoln Town Car, not the Mercedes.
The deputies don’t use foul language or make any threats. One deputy explains that no notice was needed before towing the vehicle because it had incorrect license tags.
That question of the license plates is still unresolved between both sides.
In a later interview, Martinelli-Price said she invited the deputies in because her husband asked her to do so from inside the house. But they are not happy about the posted video, calling it an intrusion of their privacy and the sanctity of their home.
She also is upset that her grandchild, who was present when deputies arrived, is mentioned on the video clip when one officer greets her.
CONSTABLE DEFENDS STAFF
Bonaventura said his deputies don’t tape every call and only do it on a case-by-case basis.
He noted that his office didn’t identify Martinelli-Price by name in the video or show her face, address, or other personal information.
In this case, she had repeatedly called the office about the towed vehicle, which made the taping necessary, he said.
“We wanted the public to know that that letter is totally bogus,” Bonaventura said.
He brought the video to the attention of Sisolak in a Feb. 26 letter to the commissioner.
“Consider the recorded event … between the complainant and deputy constables in a most friendly, cordial and cozy encounter, which is in contrast to the complainant’s accusations,” Bonaventura wrote, providing the video link.
Asked about the constable’s taping of the video and posting, Sisolak said: “The video speaks for itself and the behavior speaks for itself.”
Bonaventura also questions the timing of the letter as his office faces its possible demise at commissioners’ hands, calling it a “smear campaign.”
“There was no wrongdoing,” he said. “There was no anything.”
Contact reporter Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-455-4519.