Marshals testify before federal grand jury about choking incident

Three Family Court marshals who witnessed a 2010 case of alleged excessive force involving their supervisor testified Tuesday before a federal grand jury.

All three marshals, two of whom have since been transferred from Family Court to the Regional Justice Center, claimed to have seen the supervisor, former Lt. Steve Rushfield, choking a 23-year-old woman restrained in a chair in a holding cell on May 20, 2010.

The grand jury and federal prosecutors spent the morning hearing testimony about the incident from the three marshals, before breaking at 12:30 p.m. Two of the marshals appeared before the panel in uniform. FBI agents were also present.

“It went well,” Marshal Randy Sibbett said, as he emerged from the grand jury room.

Sibbett, now assigned to a judge at the Regional Justice Center, declined further comment.

Mike Smith, who also works at the Regional Justice Center now, declined comment before and after his grand jury appearance.

The third marshal, Bret Cegavske, son of state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, slipped out a side entrance at the courthouse after his testimony to avoid reporters.

The victim of the choking incident, Crystal Williams, was at a hearing in Family Court in 2010 to support a friend. After a confrontation with marshals outside the courtroom, she was taken to the holding cell and strapped into the restraining chair.

In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal in March, one of the marshals who witnessed the choking incident, said Williams was combative and constantly screaming.

The marshal, who asked not to be identified at the time, said Rushfield grabbed her by the throat with one hand, shoved her head back and said, “You’re in my house, bitch. Shut the f—- up.”

Rushfield also is alleged to have broken Williams’ cellphone.

“There was no reason to put his hand on her throat,” the marshal told the Review-Journal.

Before an internal investigation into the incident, Rushfield summoned all the witnesses to the back of the courthouse to “get the story straight,” the marshal said.

Court personnel were slow to report the incident out of fear of retaliation from Rushfield, who they believed had the ear of the judges in Family Court, the marshal explained.

“He walks around like he’s untouchable,” the marshal said. “We were scared of losing our jobs, but we realized that something was wrong and it needed to be brought to someone’s attention.”

Las Vegas police investigated the incident, but in early 2011, detectives with the Criminal Intelligence Section of the Metropolitan Police Department decided the matter was best left for administrative action by the court.

Two years later, at the time of the Review-Journal story, Steve Grierson, the District Court’s executive, had taken no action against Rushfield, even though Bob Bennett, the court’s security director, recommended firing the lieutenant.

The marshal interviewed by the newspaper said court officials were covering up the alleged choking incident.

“People’s rights are being violated in Family Court,” the marshal said. “They have their own rules and regulations. There is no accountability. None.”

Three weeks after the story, Rushfield gave up his rank of lieutenant and became a regular courtroom marshal for Family Court Judge Frank Sullivan.

Rushfield declined comment Tuesday, and a spokeswoman for Grierson and other District Court administrators said they were unable to comment because of pending litigation.

Rushfield also has been accused of trying to cover up allegations another marshal groped Monica Contreras, 28, who was in Family Court on Aug. 8, 2011, for a hearing related to her divorce.

In a courtroom incident captured on videotape, Contreras complained to Hearing Master Patricia Doninger that the marshal, Ron Fox, assaulted her in a nearby witness room under the guise of searching for drugs.

Earlier this year, Contreras and her lawyer, Ross Goodman, filed a federal lawsuit alleging court officials violated her civil rights.

Fox was fired following an internal investigation, and Doninger was let go last month amid publicity over the incident.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

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