Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo is an experienced cop known for choosing his words wisely. As an elected official, he knows it rarely pays to vent in public.
After 25 years in law enforcement in New Jersey and six more in Nye County, there isn’t much DeMeo hasn’t seen from the street to the sheriff’s seat. Whether you’re a cop, prosecutor, or judge, there’s an unwritten rule about taking each other to task in the media.
That’s what I found so refreshing about Sheriff DeMeo’s candid and animated account of the events involving kidnapping and domestic battery suspect Stephen James Alarid. I knew DeMeo and his deputies had to be frustrated by the way Alarid, a 43-year-old Marine veteran with a fugitive warrant status and five pending cases, was able to walk in and out of Pahrump Justice Court on Thursday without being arrested.
Pahrump Justice of the Peace Tina Brisebell relied on the word of representatives of the public defender and Nye County district attorney’s office that Alarid was not a flight risk despite the outstanding warrants and the fact the kidnapping suspect went on the lam after a Nov. 18 incident in which he’s accused of snatching his son from the 6-month-old’s mother, Staci Warner, during a custody dispute.
The boy was returned the next day after DeMeo and his deputies went on high alert. Alarid, however, wasn’t found. Court Administrator Kathy Ivey said the fact Alarid showed up for a court date in an unrelated case illustrated he wasn’t a flight risk.
Deputies, who were standing by with handcuffs at the ready, watched the suspect, an "America’s Most Wanted" poster boy, walk out of court.
If Alarid didn’t qualify to be taken into custody, the sheriff asked, who does?
"This is ridiculous," DeMeo said. "The warrants were good. The person fleeing justice had a violent background. It’s kind of tough. This is happening over and over and over again. People who commit crimes against individuals don’t seem to be answering for these crimes. We believe there should be some type of culpability. We keep seeing people victimized over and over again."
Like elsewhere, the justice system in Nye County is crowded. There’s a never-ending workload, time constraints, crowded dockets, and cops rarely like the deals cut for repeat offenders.
DeMeo said he understands the challenges of working in the system. He does it every day and has for three decades. His wife, Linda DeMeo, ran unsuccessfully for a justice of the peace post in an effort to improve the system but was criticized for potentially creating a conflict of interest.
This isn’t a lament about the realities of working within an imperfect system, DeMeo said.
He pointed to several cases involving repeat offenders, including one wanted for approximately 70 crimes, being fumbled in the system with no charges yet filed. He recalled another involving a negligent homicide charge that was dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out.
The Alarid disposition last week was another in a lengthy series of frustrating decisions. Despite the fact Alarid returned the baby, kidnapping is a serious offense. If a bank robber returns the cash, he’s still guilty of bank robbery. How can a fellow who has already run away once pose no flight risk?
DeMeo sees a larger pattern that disturbs him.
"The citizens are the ones being victimized by the criminals," he said. "The fact of the matter is, we’re about the victim. When they report a crime to the police, the police do investigate. … We have a lot of people who re-offend and go through the system a bunch of times. It’s a constant pattern. People can say they don’t have enough manpower. We don’t have enough manpower … but we still go out and do our job in order to make a better society in our county."
Has the justice system in Nye County become so crowded and jaded that repeat offenders, alleged kidnappers with outstanding criminal warrants among them, receive more latitude than the area’s victims?
Sheriff Tony DeMeo will tell you the answer is yes.
"We see the frustration level in law enforcement," he said. "My deputies are frustrated. It’s not so much an oddity. It seems to be more routine — that’s what my deputies are telling me.
"They’re telling me, ‘So what else is new?’ "
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith/.