FBI agents quietly have interviewed current and former courthouse employees in a stepped-up investigation into allegations of excessive force by Family Court marshals and possible cover-ups of their actions.
The investigation, which has been ongoing for weeks, has created a stir within courthouse circles because of the possibility it could lead to court administrators accused of turning a deaf ear to some brutality allegations.
Family Court, a division of Clark County District Court, has 20 judges who oversee a variety of domestic issues, including divorces and child custody and abuse cases.
Allegations have surfaced that administrators in both courts who developed personal relationships with Family Court marshals allowed a variety of misconduct, including excessive use of force, to continue with little or no punishment.
“This has been an ongoing pattern of conduct, and it has gotten worse in the last couple of years,” said one courthouse employee interviewed by agents.
A former courthouse employee said the agents were looking for evidence of court officials failing to take action following internal investigations of marshals. The agents were asking about the roles within the courts of District Court Executive Steve Grierson, some of his top administrators and his legal counsel.
More than a half-dozen marshals, including internal affairs investigators, are among those FBI agents have interviewed over several weeks.
Some Family Court marshals already have testified before a federal grand jury reviewing allegations their former supervisor, Steve Rushfield, choked a woman in May 2010 while she was restrained in a holding cell. The woman, Crystal Williams, has also testified.
Agents recently carted boxes of files from the Regional Justice Center office of Ed May, the human resources manager for District Court. Agents subpoenaed records from internal investigations of Family Court marshals over several years.
District Court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said court officials have cooperated with FBI agents.
“Court administration had advised the FBI of investigative files that upon subpoena would be provided,” she said.
One of those interviewed at length by agents was George Glasper, the former supervisor of District Court marshals, who was fired in March 2011 after he fell out of favor with Grierson.
Glasper, who may have knowledge of possible administrative mishandling of internal investigations of Family Court marshals, in August filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in federal court. He earlier filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which gave him the green light to sue.
Just why Glasper was fired from his lieutenant’s position at the Regional Justice Center is unclear. Neither Glasper nor court officials would comment.
Glasper is known to have had some personal problems at the time. But in his lawsuit against District Court, he alleges he was the subject of racial discrimination – he is African-American – by Grierson, his direct supervisor.
Grierson is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but in court papers Glasper and his lawyer, Kirk Kennedy, blame him for Glasper’s firing. They have the option of amending the lawsuit to include Grierson as a defendant.
They allege Glasper “endured various forms of discriminatory conduct based on his race from his supervisor.” The conduct included, “unfair criticisms” and “negative evaluations and reviews,” as well as “unequal treatment compared to employees of other races.”
Glasper was denied “various workplace rights and protections” and was forced to submit to “retaliatory conduct” against him, which created an “overall pervasive hostile work environment,” the lawsuit alleges.
Grierson issued a statement saying that because of the pending litigation he could not comment on Glasper’s specific claims.
“Integrity, honesty, and the public’s confidence in our marshal division are critical to the court, and I’m confident that after the facts of this case are revealed, it will become clear that termination was warranted,” Grierson said.
According to marshals familiar with Glasper and Rushfield, whom Grierson promoted to lieutenant over Family Court marshals, the two men did not have a good relationship and once had a blow-up in front of Grierson.
Glasper is said to have infuriated Grierson when he talked to a Las Vegas police detective investigating the May 20, 2010, choking incident involving Rushfield.
Williams, 27, was at a Family Court hearing in 2010 to support a friend. After a confrontation with marshals outside the courtroom, she was detained and strapped into a chair in the holding cell.
In an interview with the Review-Journal in March, a marshal who said he witnessed the incident described Williams as combative and screaming. The marshal, who asked not to be identified, said Rushfield grabbed her by the throat with one hand, shoved her head back and said, “You’re in my house, (expletive). Shut the (expletive) up.”
Rushfield summoned all of the witnesses to the back of the courthouse to “get the story straight” in anticipation of an internal investigation, the marshal said.
When Glasper went to Grierson with concerns that Rushfield might be retaliating against the marshals who witnessed the choking incident, he was told to stay out of the matter, according to current and former courthouse employees.
Complaints about other misconduct by Rushfield and Family Court marshals Glasper had brought to Grierson were said to have been brushed aside.
In early 2011, Las Vegas police dropped their investigation of the choking incident and decided the matter was best left for administrative action by the court. Retired FBI Agent Bob Bennett, the court’s security director, later recommended firing Rushfield, but two years passed with no action by Grierson.
Three weeks after publication of a Review-Journal story on the incident, Rushfield gave up his lieutenant’s rank, becoming a regular courtroom marshal for Family Court Judge Frank Sullivan.
Rushfield was never put on administrative leave after the allegations surfaced, according to marshals interviewed by the Review-Journal.
In contrast, after allegations surfaced about Glasper, he was put on leave within 24 hours, the marshals said.
Rushfield also has been accused of trying to cover up allegations that another marshal groped Monica Contreras, 28, who was in Family Court on Aug. 8, 2011, for a hearing related to her divorce. The FBI is interested in this case.
In a courtroom incident captured on videotape, Contreras complained to Hearing Master Patricia Doninger that Marshal Ron Fox assaulted her in a witness room under the guise of searching her for drugs.
Doninger appeared to ignore Contreras’ pleas, which prompted a marshal to arrest her on misdemeanor charges of providing false information to a police officer and disturbing the peace. She later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge. The disturbing the peace charge was dismissed.
This year, Contreras and her lawyer, Ross Goodman, filed a federal lawsuit alleging court officials violated her civil rights.
Fox was fired after an internal investigation, and Doninger was let go amid the publicity of the incident.
Earlier this month, the Review-Journal disclosed two more allegations of excessive force likely to attract the attention of FBI agents.
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.
In both incidents involving Johnson, witnesses said the marshal was the aggressor.
Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal .com or 702-380-8135. Followhim on Twitter @JGermanRJ.