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State probe: No more punishment needed for water official who poisoned kids

The state agency that decides who handles drinking water didn’t know the man in charge of North Las Vegas’ water system had once poisoned children on his son’s football team.

That’s a problem, but not a big enough one to make him unfit to safeguard city water, an investigation by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection found.

The investigation, which was completed Tuesday, concluded that although Jerome Breland had been candid with the city of North Las Vegas about his crime, he failed to alert state water regulators.

Breland has been employed with the city since 1992. He’s handled its water as a systems supervisor since 2007. In May he was promoted to interim utilities operations manager, putting him in charge of the city’s entire water system.

Breland pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor in 2001 for retaliating against his son’s teammates by lacing their drinks with Ipecac, a vomit-inducing, over-the-counter medicine once used in the emergency treatment of certain kinds of poisoning. The stunt sent eight boys to the hospital, according to court records.

The state form for water operator certification includes a yes or no box asking if the applicant has ever violated the Nevada Administrative Code. Breland marked no, even though the code states a water operator’s license can be revoked if the operator “has demonstrated disregard for the health and safety of the public.”

His conviction is for “an act of neglect of duty in willful or wanton disregard for safety of persons or property.”

But the state’s investigation, which was triggered by a complaint earlier this year, found no fault with Breland’s conduct beyond his lack of disclosure.

The Division of Environmental Protection concluded that since Breland took responsibility for his indiscretion and had been an upstanding employee and citizen ever since, no further punishment was warranted beyond the city’s decision to remove him from the water department four months ago.

The division would even consider him for a water operator’s license again, so long as he completes an ethics course first.

But it doesn’t look like Breland will be getting his old job back. North Las Vegas officials made it clear Wednesday that Breland has been permanently reassigned as an electronics technician at the city’s water reclamation facility.

“Although the state concluded the city’s actions four months ago were the equivalent to or exceeded any discipline the state would have issued, the reassignment of this individual will remain permanent, and we are gratified NDEP confirmed we took the appropriate action,” said Director of Utilities Randy DeVaul in a city-released statement.

Breland is also satisfied with the result, according to his attorney.

“I think the actions of everyone including my client were appropriate all the way around,” said Lisa Rasmussen, who represents Breland. “I would just emphasize that he was reacting to a bully who was causing physical violence to his son, and it was one act that probably lacked judgement — but it was a number of years ago.”

Breland’s crime certainly wasn’t news to the city, which only moved to reassign him after the incident made headlines in August.

Breland was working in the city’s utilities department when the crime happened, and his boss at the time wrote a letter to the judge on his behalf.

The specifics of what Breland did are hard to pin down, other than he was upset with how his son was being treated by his teammates and wanted to punish them. Rasmussen, who did not represent Breland in his criminal case, said the boy’s teammates had stolen from him, beat him up and harassed him repeatedly. Breland had just been trying to make it stop, she said. The children, ages 12 to 15, argued Breland’s boy had been the bully.

In August, two of the former teammates told the Review-Journal they forgave Breland.

Contact Bethany Barnes at bbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes

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