Henderson officers with years of sustained citizen complaints, allegations of sexual misconduct or criminal arrests are still working, and some have been promoted, a Review-Journal investigation of discipline and accountability has found.
One officer, now a lieutenant, faced about 50 allegations with nearly a dozen sustained allegations over his 18-year career, records show. He violated use-of-force rules by kicking a man having diabetic seizure during a highly publicized traffic stop, threatened another while serving a warrant and lied in a police report, according to internal affairs documents. Despite that, he was promoted twice.
A corrections officer who works in the Henderson city jail sent photos of himself naked to a colleague and was twice cited on criminal charges, including once for battery. He was initially fired after a drunken driving charge but reinstated by an arbitrator and continued to have misconduct problems, records show.
A sergeant with more than 30 allegations twice used his rifle to hit innocent people, was arrested for punching his girlfriend and allowed officers to void traffic tickets for “friends of HPD,” records show. He voluntarily retired in 2018 with a $117,000-per-year pension.
Newly released internal affairs records allowed the Review-Journal to identify a small group of Henderson officers with years of substantive violations who escaped serious disciplinary action. Those records provide a closer look at police accountability in the Las Vegas Valley’s second-largest department.
In data going back nearly 20 years, more than 150 Henderson officers were involved in five or more incidents where misconduct allegations were filed against them. About 40 officers had 10 or more sustained allegations, and six of them resigned or were terminated, a Review-Journal analysis of Henderson internal affairs data shows.
The Review-Journal asked three departments for numbers of officers with clean records. Henderson did not respond, and Metro and North Las Vegas said those statistics are not maintained. However, Metro spokesman Officer Larry Hadfield said only .09 percent of Metro police interactions with residents led to a complaint in 2019, and only .01 percent of the interactions led to a sustained complaint.
Georgetown University assistant professor Andrea M. Headley, who has expertise in criminal justice policy and police-community relations, said the lack of any reliable statistics about misconduct or discipline nationally — or even positive statistics about how many officers never had any complaints — makes it difficult to determine whether a department has problems correcting bad behavior.
“Policymakers should require that police should start tracking these kinds of data,” she said. “Not measuring those things is problematic because we don’t know what we’re dealing with.”
Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said officers who have significant, repeated misconduct violations should be fired.
“I think police discipline has been an issue for years,” he said. “I think that there’s a ton of good police officers. But for those who have committed wrongdoing, accountability really hasn’t existed at a great degree.”
Henderson Police Chief Thedrick Andres, who was appointed chief in 2019 and oversees about 450 sworn police and corrections officers, said he takes misconduct complaints seriously.
“What I can say right now is that we are one of the most premier agencies that’s continued to provide training and that we look at discipline cases,” he said. “I will put our IA process and investigative process up against any agency.”
Victims of police misconduct often are unaware of internal affairs histories or discipline — information regularly kept secret from the public — or even complainants.
James Herndon, a Sportsman’s Warehouse manager who was trying to help take down a shoplifter in 2018, was hit in the head with a rifle by Henderson Sgt. Michael Gillis, court records and video shows. Herndon, a former peace officer, said Gillis violated use-of-force policies during the store scuffle. But he said he was told by Henderson internal affairs the sergeant’s actions were justified.
City officials also indicated Gillis, who retired shortly after the incident, had a clean record, Herndon said. Herndon only learned of Gillis’ years of complaints from the Review-Journal.
“If you have one incident, you know, you should be able to correct it at that point, not have three or four or five, and let it come to this,” said Herndon, who court records say suffered a broken orbital bone, nerve damage and a concussion and is suing Gillis and the other officers involved. “I think it’s a culture. I mean, if one guy gets away with it, it kind of metastasizes to other people.”
Claims and transparency
In Nevada, once an allegation or misconduct claim is made against an officer, internal affairs departments investigate and determine whether there was a violation. If the charge is found valid, supervisors determine the punishment. But state law, union contracts and arbitrators can limit the scope of the investigation or reverse discipline and terminations.
The Metropolitan Police Department and North Las Vegas police provided data of internal affairs investigations but declined to release any detailed reports or identifying information.
The agencies cite court rulings that require them to balance employee privacy with the public’s right to know. State law even prohibits the release of photos of police officers unless they are charged with a crime.
But after nationwide protests against police killings and abuse, Henderson agreed to release detailed investigative files, police reports, complainants’ names and body camera video used in investigations of officers with repeated complaints identified through data by the Review-Journal. The records were provided despite opposition from former Deputy Chief David Burns, who headed internal affairs until he retired in January.
“As a law enforcement agency, we have a duty to be transparent with our public,” Andres said.
Haseebullah said that only reforms like making internal affairs files public under state law, eliminating qualified immunity, having an independent agency prosecute or fire problem officers and removing union and legislative protections will improve police discipline.
Police accountability nationwide is under intense scrutiny amid high-profile allegations of officer abuse or misconduct. The landmark trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin ended April 20 when he was found guilty of murdering George Floyd last year.
During the trial, a motorist in a Minneapolis suburb, Daunte Wright, was shot by officer Kim Potter, who said she mistook her gun for her Taser, sparking protests. Potter resigned and was charged with second-degree manslaughter.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday that the Justice Department is opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis, including the department’s handling of misconduct allegations.
Additional incidents, like the December traffic stop involving an Army medic confronted by Windsor, Virginia, police officers with pepper spray and guns drawn, are adding to calls for change.
Maryland enacted new measures April 10, becoming the first state to repeal its Law Enforcement Bill of Rights and setting new rules about how police are investigated and disciplined. New Mexico stopped providing public officials qualified immunity for violating people’s rights. In New York, new legislation prompted the release in March of more than 320,000 accusations against current or former police officers.
In March, House Democrats passed possibly the most ambitious effort in years to overhaul policing nationwide, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It would ban choke holds and “qualified immunity” for law enforcement while creating national standards for policing to strengthen accountability.
In Nevada, lawmakers last year reversed many provisions of a 2019 law that police leadership said made it harder to discipline problem officers, but the Legislature has failed to make internal affairs records public under state law. The state Senate passed a bill April 14 requiring officers to attempt to de-escalate situations and use the minimum force necessary.
Samuel Walker, criminal justice emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, said that, historically, police agencies around the country have been plagued with abuses, but he is optimistic that the current, high-profile misconduct will lead to substantive changes. “There has never been any golden age of American policing,” he said. “The political mood has shifted, and there is a much stronger constituency for reform.”
Southern Nevada police departments and unions defend their disciplinary processes, saying internal affairs officers work hard to weed out bad cops and correct the actions of officers who want to improve interactions with citizens.
“Police chiefs and sheriffs are doing the right thing and terminating people that should not be in law enforcement,” said Metro Assistant Sheriff Chris Jones, who oversees the internal affairs operations. “We don’t want to work next to a bad cop, and we don’t want to go through what we went through last year because of some cops in Minnesota. But there are things in place that tie our hands, and those processes need to change.”
Jones pointed to arbitrators who reversed about a third of Metro’s decisions to fire officers since 2015 as a prime problem keeping people on the force who supervisors believe shouldn’t carry a badge and a gun.
Metro police union President Steve Grammas said comparing police discipline to punishments at other jobs is unfair because police face significant danger and their split-second decisions can have deadly consequences.
“Metro definitely tries to hold their people extremely accountable and goes very far in some instances,” he said. “I wish I saw it be a more buddy-buddy system where we’re all friends, but that’s not the case.”
Grammas also said the political climate has changed to be more anti-police, even for minor transgressions.
“I think we’re in an environment that makes it fairly easy to make complaints,” he said. “There’s more scrutiny on what we do, and we’ll get investigated if someone says, ‘Hey, Steve was discourteous.’”
Henderson police union officials did not return calls seeking comment.
Complaint data from Metro and NLV
The data Metro released provides only a partial look at police accountability.
At Metro, which has about 4,000 sworn police and corrections officers, about 40 police officers had 10 or more allegations filed against them since 2015, and about the same number had five or more sustained allegations in that time period, data shows.
The data from area departments shows many complaints are dismissed. Among the nearly 700 complaints alleging excessive force, internal affairs investigators found violations in about 70 and determined most of the rest to be unfounded, the Review-Journal analysis found. Overall, more than half of internal affairs allegations in Henderson and Metro were deemed not to be valid.
Out of nearly 7,000 allegations against Metro police and corrections officers filed since 2015, 13 percent resulted in some kind of discipline, the data analysis shows. The misconduct investigations range widely from taking outside employment and smoking on the job to excessive force and searches without probable cause.
When internal affairs sustains complaints, much of the discipline involves reprimands and short suspensions. Nearly half of punishments noted in the Metro database were written reprimands, and 42 percent were suspensions of a week or less, data shows.
While the data doesn’t identify whether the complaint is against a police or a corrections officer, Hadfield wrote in an email that a substantial number of complaints are made by jail inmates against corrections officers whose complaints investigators often determine to be unfounded.
Since 2015, about 100 Metro police and corrections officers have been terminated or resigned during investigations, records show. Metro, Henderson and similar-size agencies like Phoenix and Miami-Dade have roughly the same termination rate — less than 2 percent of all allegations.
Jones said the termination statistics should be compared only to allegations of offenses that, if proved, could result in firing. He provided data that shows 391 allegations were filed since 2015 that could have led to termination. Of those, officials found violations by 133 officers, and 112 officers were terminated, resigned or retired.
But Metro officials conceded that repeated violations that alone might not be worthy of termination can get an officer fired. That happened to just six officers in the past five years. And an arbitrator reinstated four of those officers.
“There are some issues in the arbitration process that gives the advantage to employees who should not be police,” Jones said.
In contrast to Metro and Henderson, North Las Vegas terminated 12 percent of officers with misconduct allegations and sustained nearly twice as many allegations as the other departments.
North Las Vegas Police Chief Pamela Ojeda said her department takes misconduct allegations seriously. “Internal affairs do the job they’re supposed to be doing to protect our community and not have anyone violate any person’s rights,” she said.
To identify Southern Nevada officers with repeated complaints, the Review-Journal obtained databases of complaints with unique numbers for each officer and then sorted to find officers with repeated complaints, determining the number and type of violations found to be valid.
The data shows some Metro officers with sustained violations staying on the job.
— Officer #13156 had 10 allegations since 2015 in seven separate incidents where internal affairs sustained violations, including for use of force, arrest without warrant and rudeness to the public. The officer received a written reprimand and eight-hour suspension.
— Officer #15151 had a dozen sustained violations over about half a dozen different incidents, including rude behavior, not observing ethics and failing to use the body camera. The officer suffered two eight-hour suspensions and a written reprimands.
— Officer #2271 had 10 sustained violations in five different incidents for problems with search and seizure neglect of duty, rude interactions with the public and failing to use the body camera during calls, data shows. The officer received written reprimands and an 8- and 16-hour suspension.
Jones discounted statistics and examples, saying only reviewing the individual complaints will help determine whether internal affairs investigated a case properly and appropriate discipline was handed down.
But the department repeatedly refused to provide the detailed records.
Metro’s recent reforms
In 2011, Metro reformed its use-of-force policies after a Review-Journal investigation exposed the department’s record of excessive officer-involved shootings. The department has since described itself as a model agency on use-of-force policy.
Working with the U.S. Department of Justice, Metro increased transparency with body cameras, vowed to hold public briefings within three days of a shooting and appointed citizens to the Use-of-Force board.
Haseebullah, an attorney who was thrown to the ground by Metro officers during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, said police are often protected from termination.
“No other field gets away with misconduct in the same way,” he said, adding that he hopes to beef up litigation of civil rights violations against police during his ACLU tenure.
Seattle University professor Matthew J. Hickman, who is chairman of the school’s criminal justice department and previously worked as a statistician for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, said there needs to be a national training standard that will help mitigate abuses.
“There’s a complete lack of guidance and no national guidelines for police departments to follow — It’s all local control,” he said. “It’s a horrible thing. Why on earth should policies and practices be any different in Louisiana and Washington state?”
Headley said police officers with lots of complaints — even if they are not sustained complaints — are a red flag.
“It continues to be problematic and indicative of deserving more attention, more investigation and more discipline,” she said. “Maybe we need to be thinking that officers with a certain number of complaints shouldn’t persist in their jobs.”
Changes in Henderson
In Henderson, the October 2010 confrontation where motorist Adam Greene was kicked while in diabetic shock by then-Sgt. Brett Seekatz led to changes in the police department.
The highly publicized beating precipitated the retirement of Henderson Police Chief Jutta Chambers, and the decision came less than two weeks after the City Council approved a large settlement with Greene to end his lawsuit against the department. In 2012, Greene told the Review-Journal it was several months before his body felt normal.
Then-Mayor Andy Hafen said the department modified its training and use-of-force policies, conducting a top-down review that included changes to de-escalate encounters with suspects and instituting policies when use of force is appropriate.
Current police chief Andres pointed out that Henderson is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, so its policies and practices meet national standards.
But Herndon, who is trained in police tactics and still works as assistant hunting manager at Sportsman’s Warehouse, said he hopes his lawsuit will force cities to weed out police officers with repeated complaints.
“You got to decide the severity of the complaint and is it worth keeping this person on board,” Herndon said.
Contact Arthur Kane at akane @reviewjournal.com or at 702-383-0286. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.
The Review-Journal obtained databases last year of internal affairs complaints against officers from the Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas police departments. Each database contained a unique identification number that allowed the Review-Journal to see all of the complaints against an individual officer. However, those numbers did not identify officers by name or correspond to their badge numbers.
The databases also allowed the Review-Journal to determine how many complaints were sustained and what punishment accused officers received when the complaints were sustained.
North Las Vegas and Metro police refused to provide any identifying information or the detailed internal affairs files, but Henderson released detailed internal affairs case files and the names of officers the Review-Journal identified from the data as having repeated and significant allegations filed against them.
Metro’s Citizen Review Board also provided statistics and summaries of the complaints the agency received.
Reporter Arthur Kane then spent six months reviewing thousands of pages of Henderson internal affairs reports and court records and hours of body camera video. The newspaper also interviewed dozens of people who filed complaints, police officials and experts on police discipline.
Do you have a complaint or event you want to share with the Review-Journal? Contact reporter Arthur Kane at akane @reviewjournal.com.
Newly released internal affairs records allowed the Review-Journal to identify Henderson officers with years of substantive violations who escaped serious disciplinary action.
VIDEO:Henderson officers get promoted despite repeated misconduct allegations.
Brett Seekatz: The Henderson officer was promoted despite dozens of misconduct allegations and a high-profile video of him kicking a motorist in the face.
VIDEO:Lt. Brett Seekatz kicks motorist Adam Greene who was suffering a diabetic episode in 2010.
Michael Gillis: Henderson sergeant used a rifle to strike a store manager, and was accused of beating his girlfriend, but retired with a large pension.
VIDEO:Surveillance video shows Sgt. Michael Gillis hitting store manager James Herndon with the butt of his rifle during a scuffle with a shoplifter.
Michael Ray Stevens: The Henderson officer was repeatedly investigated for misconduct, including dating women he met on crime scenes and hiring prostitutes.
Darius Brown: Two arrests and a sexual harassment violation, but the corrections officer is still on duty at the Henderson jail.
Nevada lawmakers might make some police misconduct files secret
Arbitration process put dozens of fired public employees back into jobs
Reinstated employees after sustained misconduct
Henderson police Lt. Brett Seekatz’s career has been filled with misconduct allegations — the most notorious a 2010 traffic stop where video showed he kicked a motorist suspected of DUI five times in the head.
But the driver, Adam Greene, was disoriented and suffering a diabetic episode and later sued police.
Seekatz’ actions, described as sending shock waves across the valley, cost taxpayers almost $300,000 in settlements.
The officer was not terminated, demoted or charged with a crime. But internal affairs sustained an unnecessary-force allegation, and Seekatz, then a sergeant, received a verbal reprimand, records show.
What hasn’t been made public is a list of about 50 misconduct allegations occurring from 20 different incidents investigated by internal affairs, records show. Eleven of the allegations, stemming from five different incidents, were sustained, but Seekatz’s most severe punishment was a written reprimand, according to documents obtained by the Review-Journal.
The Review-Journal identified Seekatz in an analysis of internal affairs data as one of four Henderson police officers who remained on the job despite years of complaints and misconduct, raising questions about agency oversight and fitness to serve.
Unlike Metro and North Las Vegas, Henderson released hundreds of pages of internal affairs reports as part of a records request, allowing an unprecedented look into problem officers’ backgrounds.
In his 18-year career, Seekatz was promoted to sergeant and then lieutenant, making $263,000 in pay and benefits in 2019. Since the 2010 traffic stop, Seekatz’s total annual compensation has increased by more than $100,000, according to Transparentnevada.com.
After the Greene traffic stop, an additional 25 alleged violations were filed against Seekatz involving four different incidents, including allegations of filing false reports or incomplete, conduct unbecoming and neglect of duty. Internal affairs found all of the complaints not sustained or unfounded.
A complaint that was sustained, however, was for an incident in August 2019 when Seekatz was accused of misconduct by part-time postal worker Khalil Carter. Carter alleged Seekatz threatened to shoot him through his apartment door and lied about what Carter said to force him to take a plea deal during an arrest on a gun charge, according to internal affairs records and interviews.
“I am threatening you right now, stop talking over me and listen to me for a second,” the internal affairs report quotes Seekatz as yelling through Carter’s door. “If you would go to the balcony and talk to me like a man instead of a little b—— hiding behind a f——— door, then maybe we could f——— talk.”
Henderson internal affairs investigators found Seekatz was rude, insulting and acted in a way that discredited the department, records show. Seekatz also was cited for failing to turn on his body camera as required by Henderson policy, records show. He told investigators that he was taunting Carter to get him to come out and that the camera was malfunctioning. Seekatz received a written reprimand.
Carter said Seekatz’s behavior makes him question police and the courts. “I was told plead to this (flashing a gun during a traffic dispute) and they’ll drop the lie about me pointing a gun (at police) and that I was threatening them,” Carter said. “It shows you the criminal justice system is not fair.”
Henderson Police Chief Thedrick Andres defended the punishment for Seekatz in the Carter case. “In three years that I’ve been here, Lt. Seekatz has done his job,” said Andres, who declined to comment on Seekatz’s violations before he became chief. “He’s done his job according to our policies and our procedures. And when that has not happened, he’s been held accountable.”
Seekatz, reached by phone, said he could not discuss the Carter confrontation until his appeal of the internal affairs decision is completed, adding he would call back if he decides to comment on the other incidents in his internal affairs file. He never did.
Prior history of complaints
Seekatz started receiving citizen complaints a year after joining the department in 2002 as a patrol officer.
Between 2003 and 2010, internal affairs investigated 20 accusations over 13 different incidents, records show. Seekatz was accused of being rude, using profanity and demeaning language, using unnecessary force, lying on police reports and improperly conducting search and seizure during police calls, records show.
Six of the charges over three incidents were sustained, including failing to show up in court, filing a false report to help a colleague and unnecessary force in the Greene traffic stop.
During that time, Seekatz was also the last person in possession of a fully automatic M4 assault rifle before it disappeared. He was never cited for the 2009 incident, and the weapon was never recovered, records show. Seekatz told investigators he returned the rifle in early 2008 after he was reassigned from SWAT to internal affairs.
Allegations during Seekatz’s early career include a 2010 incident where he directed an officer to file a DUI charge against a man on a bicycle, but he wasn’t aware that the law didn’t allow drunken driving charges against people who weren’t motorists. A supervisor had to correct Seekatz, and the complaint was deemed “service only,” which means it wasn’t a violation of police policy.
That same year, Nikki Bott, who was divorced from Henderson police officer Jeffrey Bott, told internal affairs investigators that Seekatz’s police report about a domestic dispute contained falsehoods — including indicating that she was intoxicated — to help her husband in a child custody case. Internal affairs investigators found Seekatz was not truthful, filed a false report and failed to perform his duties impartially. He received a verbal reprimand. Nikki Bott could not be reached for comment.
Kicking motorist in the head
The October 2010 traffic stop involving Adam Greene sparked a district attorney’s office investigation.
Greene, then 38, was driving to work early in the morning when his blood sugar suddenly dropped.
Seekatz responded to assist Nevada Highway Patrol officers, who suspected a drunken driver.
As multiple officers forced a disoriented Greene to the ground, Seekatz kicked him five times in the face and twice yelled “stop resisting motherf———,” NHP dashboard videos and internal affairs records show. After officers found Greene’s insulin, Seekatz asked Highway Patrol troopers whether they had their vehicle cameras running and exclaimed: “That’s great, you’re going to have me on camera kicking this guy’s ass,” according to the internal affairs report, for the first time released to the public.
Greene’s ribs were broken, and he suffered bruises on his face and torso, according to Greene’s lawsuit.
Seekatz was asked during the excessive-force probe if department training “taught him to strike people in the head and he answered 100% positive.” Because of the circumstances, he told investigators he thought he was going to have to “kill this man.”
Seekatz also told investigators he believed other officers would have used more force, and if they hadn’t, the struggle would have gone on longer, records show. Seekatz said he was trained that a suspect’s head was a place officers can kick without causing the most severe trauma — or a green zone — but then the investigator showed him a chart that labeled the head as a red zone or a place where a strike risks the most severe trauma, records show.
“Sgt. B. Seekatz states he doesn’t know what he did wrong other than the profanity and that it doesn’t look good and the red zone doesn’t look good, but in his mind it isn’t a red zone and he has been trained that it isn’t a red zone,” the report says.
Records also show Seekatz felt bad after Greene was getting medical care. He apologized and retrieved some wipes to get the boot polish off Greene’s face.
Greene recently declined comment through his attorney.
The Clark County district attorney’s office review of the case determined they could not prove malice in the case, which would be required to convict Seekatz, records show.
In 2016, Henderson promoted Seekatz to lieutenant.
Law enforcement officers say they are often the focus of frivolous complaints, and records indicate a wide range of allegations against police officers.
In 2015, Antonio Falcon complained that Seekatz and his subordinates were profiling him as a Hispanic after police pulled him over for having blue headlights and dark tint on his car, records show. But Falcon, who couldn’t be reached for comment, conceded to officers that he was Italian, not Hispanic, the internal affairs report says. Falcon is also quoted in the records as telling officers they should treat him “like a king” because he works at Channel 13 and would do a story about the stop. He apparently never worked for the TV station.
Seekatz on desk duty
Greene’s attorney, Todd Moody, said he was surprised to hear that Seekatz was serving an arrest warrant on Carter in 2019 because city officials assured him in 2012 that Seekatz would be off the street. “We were told by the City of Henderson that he would get a desk job,” Moody wrote in an email.
Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said city officials only told Moody that Seekatz was then on desk duty. “No representations or assurances were made to Mr. Moody about (then) Sgt. Seekatz’s future job assignments and that was not addressed in the settlement,” she wrote in an email.
In November 2019, Carter agreed to plead to a gross misdemeanor attempted battery charge, and the district attorney agreed to drop the felony intimidating police allegation, records show. Carter said that the arrest and guilty plea cost him $6,000 in bail bond, auto towing fees and legal bills and he stopped training for a home appraiser certification because of the conviction.
Carter was investigated in 2017 for accidentally discharging his gun in his apartment, but he wasn’t charged in the case, records show. He had no prior criminal charges before his 2019 arrest.
Three weeks after his road rage arrest, Carter said police came knocking at his door again, but this time the officers were looking for a former resident.
“I am feeling like there’s no hope for the future,” Carter said. “If this type of thing can just go on that easy and the justice is pleading you out — it doesn’t matter if you’re innocent. It’s crazy. I’m so terrified of cops coming to the door.”
James Herndon says he was a victim of excessive force when he tried to stop an armed shoplifter at the sporting goods store where he’s a manager.
Herndon, a former state game warden, was tackled by Henderson police officers along with the fleeing suspect, getting punched, kicked and hit on his lower back and head. Then Henderson Sgt. Michael Gillis ran to the scrum, hit Herndon with the butt of an M4 rifle and used his taser, court records and surveillance video from the January 2018 confrontation show.
“I was getting hit in the face,” Herndon told the Review-Journal. “I don’t know if I was being kicked or punched with a closed fist. At some point, someone struck me in the head with an object — I didn’t know it — learned later it was a rifle. All I saw was a bright flash.”
Gillis, 51, had more than 30 internal affairs allegations tied to a dozen personal and professional incidents, including a finding in 2015 that he inappropriately used his rifle to subdue a suspect, similar to the way he struck Herndon, internal affairs records show.
Detailed internal affairs records released by the Henderson Police Department for the first time reveal Gillis’ extensive history of sustained complaints, raising questions about accountability for officers who continually break the rules.
Four days after the confrontation, Herndon, 57, filed an internal affairs complaint against Gillis and the other officers. He said investigators told him the force used was appropriate, and they indicated Gillis had no significant prior problems. Herndon filed a lawsuit in early 2019.
But records the Review-Journal obtained show internal affairs found sustained complaints against Gillis for punching his girlfriend, authorizing his subordinates to void tickets for “Friends of HPD” and using a rifle to strike another man.
Herndon attorney Marjorie Hauf’s attempts to get Gillis’ excessive force histories through discovery were rebuffed with assistant city attorney Nancy Savage arguing in a May 2020 filing that the information is confidential, court records show.
Herndon and Hauf said they only learned about some of the allegations against Gillis when the Review-Journal called to interview Herndon.
Herndon, an assistant hunting manager at Sportsman’s Warehouse on Marks Street in Henderson, said that after internal affairs investigators failed to do anything, he decided to sue the city in the hope that Henderson police would improve their disciplinary process and weed out cops like Gillis before they hurt innocent people.
“I got told, ‘Well, it’s unfounded — what they did was OK,’” said Herndon, who in court records says he suffered an orbital fracture, concussion, blurry vision and nerve damage in his face that affects his ability to taste food. “I was angry. It’s just not right.”
Henderson officials and Gillis, through his attorney, declined comment because of Herndon’s pending lawsuit.
15 years of complaints
Gillis joined the department in 1993, and his disciplinary problems started in 2006.
Metro police officers arrested him in 2006 on a domestic violence charge for allegedly punching his girlfriend, Julie Morse, three times in the face during an argument, police reports show. Metro police said she had two black eyes, a swollen nose and a cut lip. Gillis told internal affairs investigators he didn’t hit her.
Morse, who could not be reached for comment, told investigators Gillis previously had struck her outside the Spearmint Rhino strip club where she worked, records show. The criminal charges were dropped by prosecutors, but internal affairs sustained a violation of the police ethics code against Gillis, records show. In early 2007, Gillis received counseling as punishment.
The following year, state drug investigator Matt Alberto contacted Henderson police to say Gillis’ doctor may have prescribed Gillis steroids without a medical necessity, internal affairs records show. Officers took Gillis for a drug test, and he tested positive for steroids. Gillis told investigators the drug was treatment for low testosterone. Police asked a doctor to review the records, and the physician told investigators the steroids Gillis tested positive for didn’t match his prescription, according to documents. Despite the medical expert’s opinion, internal affairs determined the drug and complaints were unfounded.
Alberto, who retired from the Nevada Department of Public Safety in 2009 and reported Gillis to the city, said he was conducting investigations on doctors at the time but wasn’t privy to the internal affairs investigation of Gillis. “It kind of seems strange and it does sound interesting,” he said after the Review-Journal told him what was in the documents. “Yeah, it would probably be a concern.”
Four complaints in six months
Despite his disciplinary record, Gillis was promoted to sergeant in April 2012. In the last four months of 2014 and early 2015, Gillis was involved in four incidents that resulted in complaints.
In the first, internal affairs investigators found Gillis used excessive force by punching a woman who was fighting with his fellow officers during a domestic situation. He also failed to activate his body camera. Henderson police code says officers are required to activate bodycams “in all field contacts involving actual or potential criminal conduct.” The finding resulted in coaching and counseling.
That same year, an anonymous person called to say Gillis was in a Starbucks talking about receiving an AR-15 rifle and Glock for bodyguard work he did for a man from Dubai, internal affairs records show.
Investigators found Gillis was trying to sell one of his personal AR-15 rifles through Henderson’s internal email system. The Glock, he told investigators, came from a stranger whose drinks he paid for when the man’s credit card was declined, records show. Internal affairs deemed the complaints of outside work and accepting gifts unfounded.
Gillis was also investigated for allegedly approving his officers’ voiding traffic tickets for “Family and friends of HPD.” Internal affairs found Gillis engaged in conduct unbecoming and violated the supervisors’ code of conduct and rules against voiding citations, but the database doesn’t list any punishment for the offenses.
In early 2015, another anonymous complaint said Gillis was using vulgar language and hitting on women while spending hours at a Starbucks on Eastern Avenue. Four times in a 60-day period, police vehicle GPS showed him away from his assigned duty area for more than an hour each time, records show.
He told investigators that he was using the stores as mobile offices and felt that having a uniformed cop in the community would deter crime. He denied using inappropriate language or hitting on women. Investigators found he violated “leaving an assigned area” policy and conduct unbecoming rules, records show. He received coaching and counseling.
Rifle butt used as weapon
Three years before Gillis hit Herndon with the rifle, the officer had a similar confrontation that internal affairs found was a violation of police conduct.
In June 2015, Gillis was called to a domestic disturbance in Anthem, where a suicidal man was threatening to kill his wife, records show. The report said Lawrence List, 67, was on a call with his cellphone carrier when the customer service agent heard him threatening his wife and called police.
Gillis shot List with a nonlethal round and then proceeded to use the butt of his rifle to strike the man, accidentally hitting a fellow officer, the report said.
“Sgt. Gillis denied striking Mr. List or Officer (Paul) Baldino with the stock of the less than lethal rifle or using his less than lethal rifle as an impact weapon at any time,” the report said.
Gillis also failed to turn on his body camera, telling investigators he thought the camera was on, records show. Police officials found he violated rules requiring him to use the camera, that he used his rifle as an impact weapon and that he failed to put that in a report, but Gillis received unspecified informal discipline, records show.
List, who now lives in Illinois, said he wasn’t threatening anyone that day but just arguing with the phone company over his bill, and Gillis attacked him without provocation.
“I thought it was way too much,” he said. “They could have killed me, and I don’t have a criminal record. I definitely think they went too far.”
That same year, files show Gillis received a written reprimand for crashing his police vehicle while chasing burglary suspects.
In Herndon’s case, the internal affairs investigation ended in July 2019, but Gillis had already voluntarily retired in September 2018. Gillis and the five other officers were absolved of any wrongdoing by internal affairs despite the surveillance video and the use-of-force complaint filed by Herndon. But all are still named in the lawsuit.
Coincidentally, Gillis was also a training officer who was consulted on use of force in a Henderson internal affairs investigation against another officer in 2010, records show.
“I don’t think you’ll find a use-of-force instructor anywhere that says it’s OK to do,” said Herndon, who conceded he had two or three complaints against him over his 21-year game warden career but said that none was found valid.
City of Henderson attorneys in court filings said that Herndon was injured because he inserted himself into a very dangerous situation and that police did nothing wrong. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, but it has yet to be heard.
In the police report of the confrontation, Gillis wrote that he believed Herndon was a suspect when he hit him with his M4 rifle and deployed his taser. “This appears to be a habitual problem with Sportsman’s Warehouse employees interfering with HPD tactics and putting themselves in harm’s way during situations with thefts,” he wrote in the report.
In 2017, his last full year with the city, Gillis made $207,000 in pay and benefits, according to Transparent Nevada. Last year, he was paid more than $117,000 from his police pension.
In nine years as a Henderson police officer, Michael Ray Stevens earned the nickname “Creepy Cop” and was the subject of 60 internal affairs investigations stemming from a dozen separate incidents, police files show.
Stevens paid a prostitute for sex and repeatedly harassed women and was fired in 2014 after 20 sustained violations related to attempts to make driving under the influence cases against three people who either weren’t drunk or weren’t driving a vehicle, according to internal affairs complaints.
But the extent of his disciplinary history, revealed in internal affairs records released to the Review-Journal, demonstrates how much inappropriate and potentially criminal behavior an officer can get away with before losing his gun and badge.
Stevens, now 45, is one of four Henderson officers identified through rarely seen documents who remained on the job for years despite misconduct validated by investigations and repeated complaints.
Henderson police hired Stevens in 2005.
Within five years, he received five complaints for bad demeanor, ethics violations and use of force, records show, but internal affairs determined the complaints were unfounded.
In August 2010, a prostitute arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department at Aria told them a Henderson officer was paying her for sex. Metro officers set up a sting, and Stevens was arrested, records show.
He admitted to internal affairs that he had sex with the prostitute and used Craigslist to hire another prostitute, records show. The criminal charges were dropped, but internal affairs determined Stevens violated rules governing personal misconduct and associating with prostitutes. He received an 80-hour suspension.
Stevens could not be reached for comment, and his criminal attorney, Nicholas Wooldridge, did not return calls or emails. Henderson Police Chief Thedrick Andres declined to comment on cases that happened prior to him joining the department in 2018.
In the last full year he was with the city, Stevens made $132,000 in pay and benefits, including $4,300 in overtime, Transparent Nevada data shows.
Samuel Walker, emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said his research found officers with repeated problems often remain on the force for years.
“What we have is a pattern of really unchecked misconduct and reluctance to discipline those involved in misconduct,” he said.
Stevens continued inappropriate interactions with women after his soliciting arrest and suspension, records show.
Police records quote one unidentified witness saying he was well-known as “Creepy Cop” because he went to bars and nightclubs to “try to use his influence as a cop to favor women.” And others repeated the “creepy” moniker in internal affairs and police reports.
From 2010 to 2014, Henderson police received reports that Stevens was having sexual relationships or hitting on women he met during police calls. “Officer Stevens has a history of sexual deviation by soliciting prostitutes and bad decision making by entering into a relationship with a female he met during a domestic dispute call,” a 2012 internal affairs file says.
While Henderson police code of conduct does not specifically prohibit personal relationships with people officers meet on the job, the code does prohibit conduct that “brings discredit to the department.”
In 2012, Henderson resident Foniah Wheeler complained that Stevens, dispatched to a family dispute, told her to call him for “whatever you need” and told her “you need your needs met also,” records show. He called her beautiful and pulled her over later that day and made similar comments.
Stevens told investigators he stopped Wheeler just to check if she was OK after the dispute and wasn’t hitting on her. Internal affairs found Stevens violated conduct unbecoming and personal conduct rules and failed to use his body camera, but the internal affairs database doesn’t list the punishment.
“I was upset enough to show up (for an interview with internal affairs) and nothing,” Wheeler told the Review-Journal in a phone interview. “I’m very sad to now hear that it continued to happen.”
In 2013, Stevens received a complaint that he was using his police authority to help someone with whom he had a personal relationship.
Henderson resident Brent Edwards and other neighbors were in a running dispute with Angela Morris, who they said left her dog barking in her backyard during the summer and had people coming and going to the house at all hours, internal affairs records and interviews show.
Neighbors claimed Stevens was having a sexual relationship with Morris when Stevens decided to intervene in the dispute, records show. Stevens persuaded prosecutors to file stalking charges against Edwards and another neighbor, without any complaint by Morris, Edwards said in a phone interview.
Edwards complained to internal affairs, but investigators determined Stevens didn’t violate the rules prohibiting arrest without probable cause because Stevens’ affidavits were accepted by the court.
Edwards, who said he pleaded no-contest to settle the stalking and harassment charges and moved out of state shortly afterward, maintains Stevens should have lost his job much sooner and supervisors should suffer consequences. “I think some people should be held accountable and get fired,” he said.
Conduct with women questioned
In 2013, Stevens was accused of unprofessional conduct for allegedly asking a woman, Alysia Napolitano, for sexually explicit pictures after he responded to a domestic battery call in Henderson, internal affairs records show. The woman told internal affairs that Stevens tried to reach her through Snapchat an hour after the service call and continued to text her and call her phone number. Napolitano could not be reached for comment.
“Alysia informed Sgt. (Eron) Bushell that Officer Stevens had contacted her a few times about the photos, and made a comment to her not to tell anyone because he could lose his job,” the report said.
Stevens admitted to internal affairs that he texted Napolitano but denied asking for photos or telling her to keep quiet.
Female employees of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop in the District at Green Valley Ranch also complained in January 2014 that Stevens repeatedly hit on them and told inappropriate stories. One example cited in internal affairs records was him saying he responded to a police call of three women having sex in a pool while a young boy watched.
Stevens then asked one of the coffee shop employees, Jennifer Kiley if she would go swimming with him. “Jennifer indicated that she understood the context of the statement was an invitation to engage in sex with Officer Stevens,” the report said.
He asked another employee, Aleca Sparks, to go to a movie after she mentioned there were a stack of flyers for a free movie at the coffee shop, records show. “Aleca also felt that Officer Stevens’ conduct was strange and unprofessional,” the report said. He also told the coffee shop employees about murder scenes, records show.
Stevens told internal affairs investigators that he did not hit on the women and didn’t remember inappropriate stories. The women could not be reached for comment, and the internal affairs database doesn’t say how the investigations were resolved.
Henderson Sgt. Michael Gillis and then-sergeant, now Lt. Brett Seekatz, who each have their own long histories of internal affairs complaints, previously counseled Stevens about having inappropriate relationships with women on the job, records show.
Despite the three officers’ complaint histories, Chief Andres said he does not believe there is a unit of bad police officers in Henderson. “There is no corruption problem with the Henderson Police Department,” he said. “We do a very good job at examining every case that our employees are involved in.”
‘Letter … to Penthouse’
In the fall of 2013, Stevens participated in three police calls that would get him fired.
On Oct. 27, Stevens received a call of an intoxicated woman at a Walgreens at 1701 N. Green Valley Parkway. Stevens told another officer on the scene that he wanted to wait until the woman entered her vehicle so he could charge her with DUI. The other officer thought it was too dangerous, records show.
Later that same evening, Stevens pulled over another woman driving away from her boyfriend’s house. He determined she was drunk during field sobriety tests, but, once at the station, the woman only blew a .058 — .012 less than the level needed for the presumption of legal intoxication, records show.
Two weeks later, he pulled into a parking lot of a Panda Express on Horizon Ridge Parkway, where he noticed a couple making out in a silver Lexus, internal affairs records show. Stevens told the man to exit the car and started making inappropriate comments. Stevens’ incident report “read like a letter one would send to ‘Penthouse,’ a pornographic magazine, and was completely irrelevant to the probable cause to substantiate the charge of DUI,” a sergeant wrote in internal affairs files.
When the man told Stevens he was only there a short time, Steven said: “I guess it didn’t take that long to get your hand down her pants then,” body camera footage shows. After a series of field sobriety tests, Stevens arrested the man, but officers at the station found no alcohol or drugs in the man’s system, records show.
Fired but continued trouble
Internal affairs found violations in more than 20 charges of misconduct, lying and criminal tendencies as part of the DUI investigations, records show. Stevens was placed on paid leave Jan. 26, 2014, and fired eleven months later. Stevens collected $57,942 in pay while on investigatory leave, records show.
While still on paid leave, Stevens was driving his girlfriend’s 17-year-old niece to pick up a relative when he pulled over and had sex with the teen, records show. Three years later, the woman, who could not be reached for comment, told police and prosecutors that Stevens had raped her but she was too scared to come forward at the time because Stevens was a police officer, court records show.
The Clark County district attorney’s office charged Stevens with sex assault in 2017, and the following year with domestic battery for allegedly strangling his girlfriend, court records show. In the rape case, the district attorney reduced the charges to disorderly conduct after the woman testified she had sent Stevens a picture of herself naked and didn’t say no or push him away, the preliminary hearing transcript shows.
“This case has significant proof problems, and at preliminary hearing she testified in such a manner that it was possible it was consensual behavior,” District Attorney Steve Wolfson told the Review-Journal.
Stevens received a six-month suspended jail sentence for the disorderly conduct plea, court records show.
In the 2018 domestic violence case, Wolfson said Stevens’ girlfriend later said she was the aggressor so prosecutors dropped those charges. “I stand by what my folks do,” Wolfson said.
Henderson corrections officer Darius Brown was angry and irritated when a family argument at a neighbor’s house disturbed him in the early morning hours a few weeks before Thanksgiving 2018.
Brown, 40, off-duty at the time, entered the neighbor’s home through an open door, pushed a 24-year-old woman who was trying to get him to leave her house and threatened to return with his gun if the family didn’t quiet down, internal affairs and police records show.
Weslie Robles, whose father and brothers were arguing at 7 a.m. when Brown confronted the family, said it was a scary situation for her, her siblings and parents.
“He just kept coming closer and trying to confront my younger brothers,” Robles told the Review-Journal in January.
Brown was cited for battery, which was removed from his record after he completed a diversion program. Henderson internal affairs investigators sustained violations of conduct unbecoming, being involved in a crime and attempting to use his job to receive favors, records show. He was punished with a 40-hour suspension and anger management training for the incident.
The confrontation was only the latest misconduct allegation against Brown. Internal affairs has investigated more than 40 charges over five different incidents involving Brown in less than 10 years, records show. Brown’s record of criminal charges and breaking rules is just one example of Henderson officers keeping their jobs despite repeated, sustained complaints, raising questions about Henderson’s disciplinary process and internal affairs misconduct investigations, a Review-Journal investigation found.
Brown remains on duty at the Henderson jail working with, and supervising, inmates. He and his attorney, Michael Becker, did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment.
In reports about the early-morning confrontation, Brown admitted to internal affairs investigators that he made threats to neighbors but said he did not threaten to get a gun.
“‘Shut the F—- up,’” Brown told investigators about what he said during the confrontation. “If you don’t stop I’ll F—- you up.’” He also admitted threatening to “fight the father” for telling him to get out, records show.
He conceded that he did not use his best judgment that morning, records show. “I didn’t go over there professional,” the internal affairs report quotes him as saying. “I was pretty much in intimidation mode; I was really trying to get my point across.” Brown blames some of his behavior on protecting his young daughter, who was at his house that morning.
In 2019, Brown made $168,000 in pay and benefits, including $10,000 in overtime, according to Transparent Nevada.
Brown’s problems started in 2009 — less than two years after he was hired as a corrections officer — when he lost control of his Cadillac in Las Vegas while off-duty and slammed it into a wall, a police report says. Metro police found he had a blood-alcohol level of .184 — more than twice the legal limit, police records show.
Brown told investigators he was celebrating his birthday at the Red Rock Resort pool and had fewer than 10 drinks. Brown was hospitalized with whiplash, a broken right arm and cuts and bruises, but no one else was seriously injured in the crash, records show.
He was placed on administrative leave without pay during the investigation.
Brown was charged with DUI and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving, Las Vegas Municipal Court records show.
In July 2009, an investigation found that Brown had violated the code of ethics and his role as an officer, and he was terminated from the city, according to police spokesman Capt. Kirk Moore. But Brown was reinstated by an arbitrator, Moore wrote in an email exchange.
Three years after the crash, Brown was written up for inappropriate conversations with female inmates, including one who called him “Daddy.” He responded with “Don’t you forget it,” his internal affairs file shows. It was handled by a supervisor who coached him on proper inmate interactions.
In 2015, Brown forced an inmate to the ground who was yelling at him and Brown believed was exhibiting threatening behaviors. Six counts, including excessive use of force, neglect of duty and conduct unbecoming, all were deemed unfounded after nurses at the scene said they feared for their safety and were glad Brown intervened, records show.
Soon after, Brown again was under internal affairs investigation on suspicion of sexual harassment. The allegations were brought by a female detention center technician who worked with Brown, internal affairs records show.
On June 5, 2016, Brown ran into the woman at the cafeteria, and he complained that she only dated “rednecks,” adding, “Well, if you decided to go black,” the internal affairs report says. She responded that it wasn’t going to happen, and Brown started saying she was racist for only dating white men.
In the following months, Brown sent her a picture of himself with his shirt off, asked her in an email to dinner and drinks and questioned her about what she does “for sex.” When she told him again she wasn’t interested, he thanked her for saving him the cost of dinner.
“Everytime i make eye contact with u i just want to say something nasty lol,” Brown texted her at one point.
He also texted her a photo of his genitals, the report says. Brown told internal affairs investigators that he thought the flirting was mutual because she sent him texts discussing oral sex. The Review-Journal could not reach the woman for comment.
Internal affairs found Brown violated rules of personal conduct, committed conduct unbecoming and harassment and engaged in inappropriate computer use. He received a 40-hour suspension, records show.
Months later, Metro police cited him for battery in the case where police said he pushed Robles and threatened her family. Internal affairs investigators also wrote that Brown used his position with the city to try to get favorable treatment from Metro police.
“He got a little nervous when they came to his house and wanted to let them know he was Law Enforcement,” internal affairs investigators wrote. “When asked if he was hoping the Officers would show him some professional courtesy, Officer Brown stated he was looking for ‘empathy’ from the Officers.”
Robles said internal affairs investigators downplayed her complaints, and she didn’t even realize they found misconduct in Brown’s actions until the Review-Journal told her about the outcome.
“They told me, ‘We’re not going to be able do anything. It is your word against his,’” Robles said.
Henderson police policy is to notify the complainant about whether their complaint was sustained or not, but will not provide any detailed information about what was found, or the discipline, unless the police chief approves releasing the information.
She said it was a serious incident, and after learning of Brown’s past problems, she believes he should not work for the city.
“What guarantees do I have that he’s not going to do anything else?” Robles asked. “They aren’t going to take him in and hold him accountable for what he did in confronting my dad and scaring my brothers.”
Henderson Police Chief Thedrick Andres said his officers deserve due process and complaints are handled on an individual basis.
“Those were a set of factors that came to the decision maker at that time, who made the decision, I was not a party to that decision,” he said. “And I didn’t have the facts. It would be irresponsible for me to make … an assessment on something that I did not have all the facts on.”
Shortly after the incident, despite Brown coming to the house to apologize days after the confrontation, Robles moved into her own place. Her family also found a different place to live. “I think my parents thought it was the best idea to move,” she said.
Lawmakers around the country have pushed to make police internal affairs records public, but the Nevada Legislature is considering a bill that would close off key investigative documents.
Assembly Bill 58 would give the Nevada attorney general power to investigate patterns of civil rights complaints in local police agencies and would require him to release a report. But the legislation includes a provision that “the identity of a witness, any procedure, testimony taken, document or other tangible evidence produced” be exempt from Nevada’s public records laws.
Richard Karpel, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said the legislation would be a step backward for transparency in police misconduct inquiries.
“AB58 would, in most cases, shroud pattern and practice investigations in secrecy,” he said in an email exchange. “The amended version of the bill would require the Attorney General to issue a report about the investigations but would still hide the underlying evidence from public view. That’s a recipe for distrust and conspiracy theories.”
The bill is sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, but its chairman, Steve Yeager, declined comment, sending questions to Attorney General Aaron Ford, at whose request the bill was introduced.
“A lack of confidentiality would undoubtedly lead to a chilling effect on people willing to come forward to disclose information,” Ford told the committee on March 16.
Ford’s chief of staff, Jessica Adair, said the bill would not stop the requirement for police agencies to produce records.
“AB58 does not change any existing public records law as it applies to law enforcement agencies,” she said in an emailed statement. “Agencies still must disclose their records subject to public records law, whether or not those documents are also used in a pattern and practice investigation.”
State law and disclosure
Police accountability nationwide is under intense scrutiny amid growing allegations of police abuse or misconduct, and the landmark trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murder in the death of George Floyd this week.
In Nevada, state law does not exempt internal affairs files from disclosure under public records laws, but police departments have cited court rulings balancing the public’s right to know with employee privacy to withhold the records.
This year, about 160 bills in 40 states have been introduced addressing police data collection and transparency, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah said Nevada lawmakers should join the national trend of requiring agencies to release internal affairs records. “I think what we have to do is, we really have to push … from a policy perspective, for increased transparency,” he said.
Lawmakers in this and past sessions have passed or proposed other legislation impacting police misconduct and use of force. This session the Senate passed a bill that would require police to use de-escalation techniques and identify themselves before using force. On April 14, the Senate passed SB212, which requires officers to use the least amount of force necessary and prohibits the indiscriminate use of nonlethal rounds during protests. The bill moved to the Assembly.
In 2019, the Legislature made it more difficult to investigate police misconduct by limiting the time for an investigation and stopping supervisor questioning if there is going to be a misconduct investigation, under what is commonly known as the Police Officer Bill of Rights.
But in last year’s special legislative session, which happened after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, spawning protests in Nevada and around the world, lawmakers reversed many of the provisions of the 2019 law, which was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro. A provision in the 2019 law that wasn’t reversed: a prohibition on releasing officers’ photographs unless they are charged with crimes.
Las Vegas police union President Steve Grammas slammed Senate Bill 2, which he said removed police protections to satisfy law enforcement critics.
“I think it was disgusting that Sen. Cannizzaro failed to back law enforcement,” he said. “It was a 1,000 percent related to the political climate and what was happening across country.”
Cannizzaro, a Las Vegas Democrat and prosecutor with the Clark County district attorney’s office, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The Las Vegas police union endorsed Cannizzaro’s Republican rival, April Becker, in the November election, but Becker narrowly lost that race.
Dozens of government employees in Nevada accused of misconduct were fired and then reinstated through arbitration in the past five years — despite sustained allegations and supervisors deeming them unfit for the job.
Roughly 50 state and local employees were fired for misdeeds such as excessive force during arrest, improperly treating diabetic children and calling for more terror attacks like Oct. 1 to boost overtime, a Review-Journal investigation found. Yet they were rehired after review by arbitrators or hearing officers who often confirmed misconduct.
Along with getting their jobs back, reinstated employees usually receive thousands in back pay and benefits, records show, and could potentially re-offend. At least one did.
All governments, except the State of Nevada, hid the names of the rehired workers citing personnel privacy. The Review-Journal was able to identify some of the employees by comparing the circumstances in the decision with police reports and other records. Without knowing the names, the cost to taxpayers can’t be calculated.
Nearly all cases have not been previously made public, with the exception of the 2017 reinstatement of Clark County School District police Sgt. Anthony Russo. Russo was fired after a DUI crash where he punched and pulled his gun on the people in the vehicle he struck. An arbitrator gave him his job back, records show.
Cases that weren’t publicized include:
— A Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer working during the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting who wished for more terror attacks so he could get overtime. “We f—-ing need more terrorist attacks like this,” he said to a fellow officer, caught on bodycam. He was fired but got his job back and then fired for subsequent, unknown misconduct, according to records and union staff.
— Another officer caught on video who put a handcuffed armed robbery suspect in a chokehold in a Strip shopping mall and then kneeled on his neck for several minutes.
— And a CCSD nurse’s assistant three times failed to properly treat low blood sugar in diabetic children.
Often the arbitrators reinstate the employees for technical reasons, such as they weren’t provided proper notice of the investigation, a review of the decisions shows.
Other times the arbitrators, most of whom never worked as police or school officials and receive thousands of dollars for each hearing, overrule supervisors who have done the jobs for years. Most arbitrators are lawyers or retired judicial officers.
Nearly all public employee union contracts contain a clause allowing disputes to be worked out by an independent arbitrator. If the union or employee disagrees with a disciplinary decision, the grievant can request arbitration. The arbitrator is selected from a list approved by both union and management and is usually an attorney or retired judicial officer.
The arbitrator reviews any evidence, disciplinary records and hears from both sides, making a decision about whether management proved the offenses and whether punishment was appropriate. The losing side can appeal to district court but that rarely happens.
Arbitrators on the Nevada cases investigated by the Review-Journal charge anywhere from $1,700 to $3,000 a day for hearings, travel, document review and cancellation if the parties don’t provide enough notice. The costs are usually split between the agency and the employee and union.
For state employees, hearing officers review cases related to dismissal, demotion, involuntary transfers or suspension.
“One of the most striking takeaways from my perspective is the arbitrators have rationalized that protecting those officers and employees is more important than protecting the community from this level of violence and abuse,” said ACLU of Nevada executive director Athar Haseebullah, who read a number of arbitration decisions at the Review-Journal’s request. “It deteriorates and defeats the public’s trust in the times the department is seeking to take appropriate action.”
But Steve Grammas, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said his members need protection from unfair punishment. “Sometimes, it’s totally arbitrary and (a supervisor) says we never liked this kid and he shouldn’t be here,” he said. Arbitration “takes some of the subjectivity out of it.”
The LVPPA represents rank-and-file employees, but Grammas said there are times when the union doesn’t support a grievance if association officials determine the discipline fits the department’s policies.
An April 2021 Review-Journal investigation on discipline and accountability reported a Henderson corrections officer sent photos of himself naked to a colleague. He had been fired years earlier after a drunken driving arrest but reinstated by an arbitrator. After that, he was disciplined for sexual harassment and a battery arrest, records show. He’s still employed at the city jail.
Metro, CCSD, seven arbitrators, and the reinstated employees that the Review-Journal could identify, either declined or did not respond to requests for comment.
Of the nearly 3,000 employees terminated by the state, CCSD, Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Clark County and Metro since 2015, about 270 appealed, and 47 won those appeals and were reinstated.
Employee names hidden
Victims of government employee misconduct often are unaware of the employee’s disciplinary histories — information regularly kept secret from the public or even complainants.
All local, school and county governments conceal the names of the fired and then-reinstated workers. But state officials determined employee names are public because the decisions happened during public hearings.
That may change going forward because the Nevada Legislature allowed state employees to unionize in 2019. Stephanie Klapstein, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said arbitration hearings are no longer public for union employees, but names of fired workers will generally be released unless there is a “privacy interest.”
Nevada Press Association executive director Richard Karpel said taxpayers have a right to know what public employees that they pay are doing, and what consequences supervisors are imposing.
“It’s a disservice shielding government behavior and government performance — we need to know this stuff,” he said.
Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, said one of his biggest concerns with state employee unionization was the arbitration provisions often written into collective bargaining contracts.
“When the unions get involved, they usually call in an arbitrator from California and it’s not local people knowing local matters,” he said. “An arbitrator from California in contract negotiations usually sides heavily with the union.”
Metro sheriff candidates Kevin McMahill, the former undersheriff, and Tom Roberts, a former assistant sheriff who is now a state assemblyman, said union contracts make it difficult to change the arbitration process, but there needs to be a way to disqualify arbitrators who repeatedly make bad or unsupported rulings.
“We have to make sure the decision is based on the facts and not just willy-nilly and doesn’t mesh with the case,” McMahill said.
Both men also said they would support releasing the names of police officers who were fired and reinstated if state law and court rulings allow it.
“I believe in transparency,” Roberts said. “I agree the public pays for the police department, for that service, and should have better access to records.”
The third declared candidate for sheriff, Stan Hyt, could not be reached for comment.
The appeals took anywhere from two months to more than two years with employees away from work during that time, but in most cases receiving back pay and benefits after reinstatement, records show.
Through public records requests and analysis, the Review-Journal was able to detail four cases of employees fired for misconduct and the decisions made through an arbitration process to restore their jobs.
Oct. 1 mass shooting overtime
An 11-year Metro veteran was fired after a series of actions during the Oct. 1 mass shooting response that supervisors found inappropriate, the arbitration record shows. The officer, who couldn’t be identified from public records, went home to eat during his shift on the evening of Oct. 1, 2017, and turned off his police radio while discussing a personal matter.
During the officer’s break, a gunman started firing on the Route 91 Harvest music festival crowd, and the officer only learned of it after turning his radio back on. He was dispatched to move people away from Mandalay Bay but was heard on his body camera welcoming similar attacks, according to the arbitration decision and bodycam video obtained by the Review-Journal.
“Gonna get some motherf—-ing overtime for this,” he tells a fellow officer. “That’s 36 hours of overtime. Yeah, I don’t think I am going to pass that up no matter how much — no matter how much I hate this department. We f—-ing need more terrorist attacks like this.”
As he and other officers were directing people, the officer is heard being dismissive of a woman who comes to him saying someone attempted to rape her. He tells her to move along and file a report later and then turns to his fellow officer and said: “Ahh, someone just tried to rape me,” in what the arbitration decision describes as a “mocking tone.”
The arbitrator, Gary L. Axon, reinstated the officer with back pay, citing the officer’s prior “discipline-free” work performance. Axon wrote a 20-day suspension was more appropriate for the misconduct — though department policy limits suspensions to 40 hours. “The Employer’s legitimate interest in discouraging Grievant’s behavior will be served by a substantial suspension short of immediate discharge,” Axon wrote, noting that two sergeants were so stressed out by the shooting they couldn’t do their duties but weren’t fired.
Axon, who has a law degree from Drake University but whose license is suspended for nondisciplinary reasons, according to the Oregon State Bar, has conducted arbitration in union disputes for government agencies as well as businesses like Boeing, his resume shows.
Grammas said after the officer’s reinstatement in 2019 he was fired for subsequent misconduct but could not recall the details or timing. Metro refused to provide additional information about the officer and others who were reinstated, citing personnel privacy.
Excessive force on video
Metro Detective Benjamin Rose was fired in September 2015 for excessive force during an arrest at the Miracle Mile Shops mall on the Strip. Rose spotted Brian Rodriguez, of Norwalk, California, as matching the description of a suspect in a series of armed robberies at casino parking lots, police and court records show.
Metro redacted Rose’s name, but the Review-Journal identified through him police reports and his grand jury testimony.
When Rose attempted to arrest Rodriguez, the suspect started swinging at the officers, grabbed Rose’s crotch, repeatedly bit Rose and struggled until he was cuffed, police reports and a YouTube video of the incident shot by a bystander show. But after he was subdued, Rose put Rodriguez in a chokehold, didn’t call for medical treatment and kneeled on his neck for several minutes, the video and arbitration report show. Rose claimed during the internal affairs investigation that Rodriguez was starting to break away again.
IA investigators also found Rose unprofessional for swearing at the suspect, and untruthful for saying that the suspect tried to break away.
While not disputing many of the facts, arbitrator Kathryn Whalen determined that termination was too severe a punishment and decided a 40-hour suspension was more appropriate. “I have concluded that the Department failed to establish that Grievant committed gross inappropriate use of force, but did prove inappropriate use of force during the incident with (REDACTED) on April 2, 2014,” she wrote on May 26, 2016. “I also concluded that the Department established that Grievant violated the Interaction with Public Policy, but failed to meet its burden with respect to his alleged untruthfulness.”
Whalen practiced labor and employment law for 15 years in Portland, Oregon, and became a full-time arbitrator in 2003.
Rodriguez’s aunt, Judith “Judy” Ojeda, filed complaints of excessive force with the Citizen Review Board, FBI and Metro internal affairs after seeing the bystander video. She did not know until the Review-Journal contacted her that Rose was fired but reinstated five years ago. She said if Rodriguez had been older, had medical problems or Rose would have kneeled on him longer, he could have died like George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“It’s ridiculous to allow a police officer to stay on the force after what he did to my nephew,” she said in a phone interview.
Rose did not return calls seeking comment, but Grammas pointed out that Rodriguez injured Rose during the incident. Rose suffered bites to his wrists, left calf and right thigh and had a shoulder contusion and strained hamstring for which he was given Ibuprofen and an antibiotic, the arbitration report said. Rodriguez continued to fight police during transport to jail and was fitted with a spit mask, the report said.
Grammas conceded that recent events make kneeling on a suspect’s neck problematic and that the hold isn’t even effective because it’s easy for a suspect to push the officer off. “Post-George Floyd, it’s not necessary and it’s not good control,” he said.
Ojeda said her nephew, who was sentenced to as much as 45 years in prison after pleading guilty to armed robbery, kidnapping and burglary charges, had no prior criminal history and lost his mother just before his robbery spree.
“He’d never been in trouble and had a really good heart,” she said. “I was shocked when this happened.”
Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said the CRB dismissed Ojeda’s complaint but any public records related to that decision are no longer available.
Metro paid Rose $47,600 after he was reinstated, records show.
Diabetic child treatment
At Fertitta Middle School, a first-aid safety assistant with more than 30 years at the Clark County School District, was fired in 2018 after she three times failed to properly treat diabetic students who were exhibiting low blood sugar — a potentially life-threatening disorder, arbitration records show.
The assistant, whose name was redacted, miscalculated the amount of carbohydrates the students needed to take by rounding up instead of down, “which is not allowed and dangerous,” the decision says. She also left a child with low blood sugar with another staff member because her shift ended at 3:30 p.m., saying she was tired of being a “team player,” the records show. The district also said she lied about notifying one of the children’s mothers of the medical condition.
Arbitrator Mark Burstein found the district proved its case on insubordination and failing to administer the right treatment but wrote there was insufficient proof she lied about calling the mother. He justified leaving a child with another staff member because the other staffer was also trained as a safety aide, records show.
“Similar misconduct in the future could result in exposing diabetic students to complications that could jeopardize their health,” he wrote. But he decided that the district’s punishment was too severe and reinstated her with a six-month suspension.
Racial memes on Facebook
In 2016, a Metro corrections officer was fired for posting memes disparaging African Americans, referring to inmates as “turds” and the detention center as a “cesspool,” arbitration records show. One posting was a picture of two monkeys eating at a table where he wrote: “Better mannered than many at the Cesspool!”
In his defense, union representatives introduced nine similar violations of social media policy that other officers posted between 2014 and 2016. Those employees were given a written reprimand, records show.
Arbitrator Eric B. Lindauer ruled that the officer, a 13-year veteran with no prior discipline, did not violate the department’s social media policy because there was no proof the postings impaired or impeded the officer’s ability to work with co-workers.
But Lindauer found that the posting put the Clark County Detention Center in a bad light and impeded the ability of the agency to serve the public. Lindauer rejected the union’s contention of problems with the investigation but found the termination too harsh. He reduced it to a 40-hour suspension.
It “is the decision of the Arbitrator that the employer … had just cause to initiate disciplinary action against, the Grievant,” Lindauer wrote on Nov. 15, 2016. The “Arbitrator has also concluded the penalty of termination, under all the circumstances of this case, was unreasonable and deserving of modification.”
Haseebullah urged lawmakers to explicitly make government personnel records public under state law so there was more transparency over who was reinstated and why the employee was fired.
“How many legislatures have made it public — that’s a testament to the strength of those opposed to” releasing information government employees, he said. “They don’t want to take a position that offends a massive amount of people.”
Here are eight examples of reinstated Nevada employees after sustained misconduct:
Metropolitan Police Department (Names are not released)
■ Who: Metro corrections officer
■ Fired: Date not listed in ruling
■ Rehired: June 28, 2015
■ Complaint: Officer got into a bar fight after his son provoked another patron with racial comments; officer had previously been disciplined for public drunkenness.
■ Ruling: Arbitrator Richard C. Anthony ruled the officer should be rehired because he was not convicted of the criminal charge.
■ Who: Metro corrections officer
■ Fired: Feb. 13, 2017
■ Rehired: June 6, 2017
■ Complaint: Corrections officer started sexual relationship with inmate and let her drive his vehicle in which she got a DUI.
■ Ruling: Arbitrator Richard C. Anthony reinstated officer after determining the girlfriend couldn’t be called a person of ill repute because she was never convicted of a felony.
Clark County School District (Names are not released)
■ Who: District custodian
■ Fired: Oct. 11, 2016
■ Rehired: Aug. 31, 2017
■ Complaint: Crashed district vehicle while high on drugs.
■ Ruling: Arbitrator Alexander Cohn reinstated him but ruled for immediate termination if he tests positive for drugs again.
■ Who: Ruby Duncan Elementary School teacher
■ Fired: April 9, 2014
■ Rehired: June 19, 2015
■ Complaint: School officials determined that she either inflated test scores or was too incompetent to do assessment properly and had prior discipline for releasing student to an unknown person; also letting her husband use a district computer and failing to provide lesson plans.
Ruling: Arbitrator Carl B.A. Lange III ruled that an 18-day suspension was more appropriate than termination.
State of Nevada (names released because case brought to public hearing)
■ Who: Department of Corrections officer Johnny Bilavarn
■ Fired: Oct. 21, 2016
■ Rehired: Sept. 24, 2017
■ Complaint: Bilavarn left his post through a back way three hours into an eight-hour mandatory OT shift, causing the unit to be locked down. Had prior discipline for sleeping during a training, making an inmate exercise to point of vomiting and accidentally bringing his cellphone into the facility.
■ Ruling: Hearing officer Mark Gentile reinstated Bilavarn with back pay because the department did not give him the four-hour notice required for mandatory overtime. Bilavarn’s attorney Adam Levine said the state repeatedly loses decisions over its failure to give proper notice for overtime and it wastes taxpayer resources litigating the issue.
■ Who: Department of Public Safety supervisor Karen Haycox
■ Fired: Nov. 29, 2017
■ Rehired: Nov. 7, 2018
■ Complaint: Haycox was fired for allegedly using racially insensitive language, trying to influence her subordinates’ political preferences in the 2016 election and failing to follow her supervisor’s direction.
■ Ruling: Hearing officer Robert Zentz reinstated Haycox because the department did not complete the investigation quickly enough. Haycox attorney Adam Levine said he believes Haycox would have been reinstated on the merits because she had a First Amendment right to political speech and the other allegations against her were not that serious.
■ Who: Forensic Technician Sir John Hawkins
■ Fired: Date not listed in ruling
■ Rehired: Nov. 14, 2019
■ Complaint: Hawkins allegedly mistreated, abused or endangered patients at Stein Hospital.
■ Ruling: Hearing officer Robert Zentz reinstated Hawkins because the department failed to give him proper notification under the Peace Officer Bill of Rights legislation. Hawkins’ attorney Adam Levine said he believes Hawkins would have been reinstated on the merits because Hawkins was helping a fellow employee who was being attacked by a patient/inmate who articulated a stated intention to kill that fellow employee, and the force used to assist that fellow employee was objectionably reasonable.
■ Who: Department of Corrections officer Andrew Maier
■ Fired: June 26, 2017
■ Rehired: Oct. 11, 2017
■ Complaint: Maier allegedly left the prison control room open, a potential security breach, while he was in the break room socializing with inmates. His attorney declined comment, saying he no longer represents him or the union.
■ Ruling: Hearing officer Victoria Oldenberg did not find the evidence supported termination.