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Documents link family court marshal to more excessive force allegations

New allegations of excessive force tied to a suspended Family Court marshal have surfaced in court documents obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Former Las Vegas businessman John Conforte says in the documents that he was unlawfully beaten and stunned with a stun gun while handcuffed during a Feb. 19, 2008, altercation with Family Court marshals, including Steve Rushfield, who is at the center of a string of misconduct allegations.

Rushfield, who was a sergeant and supervisor over Family Court marshals at the time, was suspended Dec. 18 with pay amid an internal court investigation into undisclosed allegations of misconduct.

Court officials said Thursday they couldn’t comment on the latest allegations.

“The court is prohibited from commenting on an active case,” spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said. “Any allegations of misconduct brought to the attention of the court are taken very seriously.

“Over the past few years, the court has taken significant steps forward to improve courthouse safety and security including: improving marshal training, creating a dedicated internal affairs bureau, enhancing procedures and increasing our hiring qualifications. Courthouse and visitor safety is a top priority.”

Conforte, 46, who now lives in Burbank, Calif., leveled the excessive force allegations in a sworn statement attached to court papers seeking to overturn his gross misdemeanor conviction for battery on an officer stemming from the altercation. He was alleged to have kicked one of the marshals during the scuffle in a back room at the courthouse.

In March 2009, Conforte pleaded guilty before District Judge Valerie Adair to the battery charge and a misdemeanor charge of resisting a public officer, and later was sentenced to 18 months of probation.

His defense lawyer, Chris Rasmussen, said in a motion this week to overturn the conviction that he advised Conforte at the time to take the plea deal to avoid possible prison time. And Conforte reluctantly agreed.

“I advised Conforte that a jury trial would be difficult, as Rushfield was a very credible witness,” Rasmussen wrote. “Rushfield was a favorite of the judges in Family Court and was considered ‘golden.’”

But Rushfield’s standing in Family Court has been tarnished in recent months amid an FBI investigation into swirling allegations of excessive force and cover-ups.

Rasmussen said he now believes a “culture of violence and sexual harassment” led to his client’s “unlawful arrest and beating.”

Rasmussen said Conforte suffered head injuries and two broken wrists in the 2008 confrontation with the marshals.

According to a transcript of Conforte’s November 2008 preliminary hearing in Justice Court, one of the marshals involved in the altercation, Torrey Durrett, testified that Conforte was unruly and verbally combative with Rushfield and the other officers in a public area at Family Court.

Eventually, Conforte was handcuffed as he was taken to a holding area and while still struggling with officers, he was stunned with the stun gun, Durrett said.

But Conforte now says in his statement that the marshal’s version of what happened is a lie.

He said he had gone to Family Court to pick up a restraining order packet and ran into his girlfriend who also was the mother of his young child. After a brief discussion, the girlfriend left and soon a group of marshals approached him and said they were taking him to the back.

“They handcuffed me and walked me for what seemed like a five-minute walk,” Conforte said. “I was not resisting and was very compliant.

“Right before we got to a door, they said, ‘drop him.’ They dropped me on my head and pressed on my legs and tased me. I screamed for my life.”

While in custody, Conforte explained, Rushfield told him, “This is my f — — ing house. How do you feel now tough guy?”

That statement resembles one Rushfield is alleged to have made more than two years later during a confrontation with a Las Vegas woman in a holding cell.

Rushfield is alleged to have choked the woman, Crystal Williams, on May 20, 2010, while she was confined to a restraining chair.

A marshal who said he witnessed the incident said Williams was combative, but 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.”

The FBI is investigating the incident, and Williams, 27, testified before a federal grand jury earlier this year.

In March, after a Review-Journal story tied Rushfield to the Williams confrontation, he stepped down as supervisor and went to work as a courtroom marshal for Family Court Judge Frank Sullivan.

FBI agents have since interviewed current and former courthouse employees in their excessive force investigation.

Rushfield has been accused by other marshals of trying to cover up the choking incident, as well as an incident involving a marshal accused of groping a woman at Family Court.

The marshal, Ron Fox, is accused of assaulting Monica Contreras, 28, who was in Family Court on Aug. 8, 2011, for a divorce-related hearing.

Fox denies wrongdoing, but the FBI is also investigating that case.

In a courtroom incident captured on videotape, Contreras complained to a hearing master that Fox had groped her in a witness room under the guise of searching for drugs. Both Fox, and the hearing master, who appeared on the tape to ignore Contreras’ pleas, were later fired.

Marshals who asked to remain anonymous have said there was an “oppressive culture” at Family Court when Rushfield was in charge of them.

In October, the Review-Journal disclosed two more allegations of excessive force.

In one case, former Henderson resident Peter Peterson alleges a marshal assaulted him after he passed through the metal detectors in Family Court on Feb. 27, 2012.

Peterson, 42, who now lives in Oklahoma City, claims the marshal, Brent Johnson, threw him headfirst to the concrete floor, causing him to suffer serious facial fractures, head contusions and spinal injuries.

Two days after that altercation, which was captured on security video, a federal judge dismissed a similar case alleging brutality involving Johnson after both sides reached an undisclosed settlement.

In that confrontation, which occurred on Nov. 21, 2007, William Beaver accused Johnson of punching him and tackling him to the ground outside the main Family Court entrance, giving him a concussion and a hernia and aggravating his back problems. Beaver, who was 66 at the time, now lives in Oregon.

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