That Sgt. Anthony Russo is once again a member of the Clark County School District police force makes no sense.
Not only is it disgusting that the hothead can wear a badge, but it also should be worrisome to every parent with children in the school district — and to people who just care about kids.
How anyone reading his Sept. 5, 2015, arrest report on six charges would think otherwise — he later was convicted on drunken driving and battery charges — defies reason.
It came as no surprise that Russo was fired. It was a surprise he was back on the job last month.
While the Nevada Highway Patrol arrest report notes “Mr. Russo demonstrated outward signs of impairment” and caused a collision between his white Subaru SUV and a Hyundai Accent at the intersection of the 215 Beltway and West Sunset Road, troopers also noted witnesses reported Russo punched out both a crash survivor and a bystander trying to help.
Witnesses also said Russo pulled a gun from his holster in a threatening manner.
Russo, then a police union president, was charged with DUI, possessing a gun under the influence of alcohol, drawing a deadly weapon in a threatening manner, two counts of battery and failing to obey traffic control devices.
A disturbing plea agreement with the DA’s office saw him plead no contest in November 2015 to one count of battery and misdemeanor DUI. A judge found him guilty on both charges.
Punishment on the drunken driving charge included DUI school, the coroner’s DUI program, participation in the Victim Impact Panel, $685 in fines, two days in jail and a 30-day suspended jail sentence. On the battery charge, his punishment included impulse control counseling and a six-month suspended jail sentence.
Though Russo, under a collective bargaining agreement, appealed his firing, it’s doubtful anyone ruled by logic or common sense thought he’d get his job back.
Gary Axon, the arbitrator who decided in Russo’s favor in February, obviously didn’t let either logic or common sense interfere with his decision. He said he couldn’t comment beyond his ruling.
Though he found Russo “engaged in foolish and offensive behavior when he angrily struck an incapacitated, innocent teenager,” Axon said nothing in his conduct indicated “malicious motive or criminal intent.”
Come on. If Russo repeatedly struck the 18-year-old passenger in the car, Brian Arias, as he was being pulled injured from the wreckage by bystanders, as both Arias and witnesses told police, that’s malicious. Blows to the head are dangerous..
Arias told police that the Hyundai he was in had traveled halfway across the intersection when it was T-boned by the white Subaru driven by Russo.
“We were going (the) speed limit and the white SUV was still going around 60 mph. After that the driver of the white SUV was punching me and a couple civilians were pulling us out,” he said in a statement included in the arrest report. “He punched me about three times on my cheek, then the civilians stepped in and defended me from the attacker.”
Arias, now 20 and in the National Guard, told me that Russo kept yelling and trying to put the blame on them for the crash.
Actions and consequences
In his ruling, Axon argued “an employee’s private life is none of the employer’s concern.” Nonetheless, Russo’s actions that day did affect the lives of Arias and the Hyundai’s driver, Eric Robles. The crash forced both into physical therapy for three months for leg and back injuries. Arias also needed treatment from an eye doctor.
Keep in mind Russo is a supervisor, and “Do as I say, not as I do” leadership cripples every organization stuck with it.
Though Adam Levine, an attorney for Russo, said neither he nor his client could comment, he did say the incident was “not as dramatic” as portrayed by media.
Tell that to Robles, who was knocked unconscious during the collision. He was supposed to go in the military two days after the accident but had to delay his entry for months.
The 20-year-old has since become a military policeman in the National Guard and hopes to become an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department.
Robles told me he doesn’t think Russo has the right temperament for the job.
“Police should be held to a higher standard on- and off-duty, ” he said.
It sure didn’t seem to work out that way in this case.
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday and Tuesday in the Nevada section and Monday in the Health section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.