A Clark County School District police officer who was acquitted in a federal excessive force case in 2016 is suing the district and top officials, alleging that a tainted internal investigation left him branded as a liar and with no prospect of finding new employment.
Officer James Lescinsky was accused of hitting and injuring a 15-year-old female student and a maintenance worker with his baton in 2015 while responding to a fight at Jeffrey Behavior Junior/Senior High School in North Las Vegas, and then lying about it. A federal judge later acquitted him of all five felony counts, including tampering with a witness and falsification of a document.
Lescinsky’s lawsuit, filed on Thursday, claims that Christopher Klemp, a detective in internal affairs at the time, submitted the case to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice after the district attorney’s office declined to press charges.
That was contrary to department policy, according to the complaint, which also alleged that Klemp was in a personal relationship with the special federal agent to whom he referred the case.
“The information relative to the internal investigation was to remain private as none of the complaints which initiated the investigation were substantiated,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also alleges that the district, police Chief James Ketsaa and other officials knew about previous issues with Klemp’s handling of internal investigations — including giving false testimony — but did nothing about it.
It’s the latest in a series of misconduct allegations directed at the district’s police department and its internal affairs unit.
After the district attorney declined to pursue the case following Klemp’s investigation of the May 2015 fight, the detective told Lescinsky that he had submitted his evidence to federal authorities, according to the complaint and Lescinsky’s lawyer.
Lescinsky was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2016, but later acquitted of all charges.
Klemp, who helped the FBI with Lescinsky’s case, has faced allegations from other police officers that he is dishonest and suppressed evidence.
A 2016 Review-Journal story detailed a secretly recorded audiotape in which Klemp leaked information from an investigation to a department whistleblower and instructed him to blame the leak on someone else.
Klemp was later reassigned.
The lawsuit also claims that the district and police department condoned and financially incentivized Klemp’s efforts to wrongly punish officers, including Lescinsky.
“He had an inducement to actually pursue these (investigations) because he is the only person in the CCSD police department who has control of his own overtime,” Lescinsky’s attorney, Melvin Grimes, told the Review-Journal. “They gave him his own budget and said, ‘Here, use all the overtime you want within this budget,’ and so he did. If that meant creating cases that’s what he did.”
Grimes said Klemp created evidence that made it appear Lescinsky’s attack was racially motivated.
And while Lescinsky wants to leave the department, his lawyer said, he hasn’t been able to find a job because he was labeled a Brady cop — a term used for officers who have a history of being untruthful — during Klemp’s investigation.
“He is basically stuck now with a force that blackballed him because he’s now labeled Brady,” Grimes said. “We have a decline letter from a chief of police (stating) that they wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole.”
Lescinsky’s lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages, although his attorney said that some claims can only be awarded without others.
Klemp declined to comment on Friday, saying that he had not seen the lawsuit. He did not respond to a request for comment after being sent the lawsuit in an email.
The district did not respond to a request for comment. The police department, also listed in the lawsuit, declined to comment through Capt. Ken Young.
Defamation and discrimination
Lescinsky also alleges he was a victim of racial discrimination, claiming that Assistant Superintendent Tammy Malich recommended Lescinsky be reassigned because he is white and works in a predominantly African-American school. The maintenance worker and student both were African-American.
The complaint also alleges that Malich conducted her own investigation with the sole goal of gathering information to “achieve her goal” of removing Lescinsky from the school and as an officer.
Malich denied investigating on her own, noting that she does not supervise school police and that it is beyond her authority to investigate them.
The lawsuit states that defendants also made false statements, claiming that Lescinsky used excessive force in the school incident and that, because of his skin color, he was unfit to remain at the school.
“These statements were heard by multiple members of the (department) and later relayed to the Department of Justice, which based upon the defamatory statement, launched a criminal investigation which resulted in an indictment and criminal trial,” the complaint states.
CCSD Police Department legal battles
The district police department has been mired in legal actions from current or former employees, including:
1) Dan Burgess, who claimed he was fired for being a whistleblower in a corruption investigation. He fought for the district to re-hire him with back pay and won.
2) Anthony Russo and Burgess, who both filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were not given a fair hearing over their termination, among other things. Burgess said he settled for $55,000. Russo’s matter is ongoing, according to court documents.
3) Mike Thomas, who filed a federal lawsuit also claiming he was retaliated against for speaking up about corruption. He later lost.