They entered Judge Mark Stevens’ courtroom down on their luck, in need of help and facing penalties for misdemeanor crimes.
When they left Henderson Municipal Veterans Court on Thursday, they smiled and held their heads high after their cases were dismissed and their records sealed.
Three Army veterans and a Marine graduated under a pilot program that Stevens, a former police officer and Marine captain, launched last year with a mission to ensure “no veteran is left behind.”
“As a police officer, one of the things I hated to see were men and women with Purple Hearts and Silver Stars who served their country spiral downward,” he said. “I thought, ‘We can get those guys on track.’ It’s the most rewarding thing I do as a judge.”
After Stevens dismissed their cases, the graduates of the treatment and community service program enjoyed cake and cookies with their families.
It was the largest class since the program began in June 2011. About two dozen more are waiting to work with “mentor” veterans, who serve as role models.
“When their case is adjudicated, it’s completely wiped out. That is the beauty of this program. They can say they were never convicted of domestic violence or DUI,” said Bill Olds, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who volunteered to be a mentor for a future class.
Former Army Military Police Sgt. Jeff Johnson’s voice cracked as he addressed the packed courtroom.
“I appreciate my wife,” he said, fighting back tears. “She helped me do what needed to be done.”
Afterward, with his wife by his side, Johnson, 59, explained he had anger issues stemming from medications he was taking.
“It was one of those things that happened,” said his wife, LaDean Johns-Johnson.
Iraq War veteran Jason Brooks, 39, a medically retired Marine staff sergeant, recalled how pain medication he was taking after surgeries for his battlefield injuries in 2003 caused anxiety that led to his legal problems.
“I had nine surgeries, including a double hip replacement. So I’ve got metal in my hips and neck and screws in my arms. They had put me on different medication for pain,” he said, standing with his wife, Abby, and 1-year-old-daughter, Anna.
Former Army Sgt. Jacqueline Henry, 41, battled sobriety issues.
“This department has shown so much support when you needed it. It allowed me to become clean and sober,” she said.
Vietnam War Army veteran Lonnie Ray Howie, had been in the treatment program for a year.
“It’s not a joke,” he said.
“You better take advantage of this situation because you’ll never get another chance,” he told the courtroom.
From the judge to the attorneys, marshals and public defenders, all are veterans, including outreach specialists from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
To qualify for the program, participants must be honorably discharged veterans, retirees or active-duty personnel arrested for misdemeanor crimes in Henderson.
They are required to participate in rehabilitative programs based on their needs, perform community service and stay out of trouble.
A similar Veterans Court program exists in Washoe County, and a proposal was made in July to the Clark County Commission to establish one in District Court.
But with funding an issue, it might require legislative action to compel District Court to establish one if it is not done voluntarily. Meanwhile, Justice of the Peace Melanie Andress-Tobiasson of Las Vegas Justice Court has been identifying veterans in the system and taking on their cases.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.