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Nye County sheriff facing tough race after controversial tenure, complaints

Updated June 17, 2022 - 3:35 pm

Nye County residents may be ready for new leadership in the sheriff’s office after incumbent Sharon Wehrly’s controversial two terms and questions about her management and staff accountability.

Preliminary primary results show her main challenger, Sheriff’s Deputy Joe McGill, has a 1 percent lead over Wehrly and will face her in the November general election. In her two prior elections, Wehrly had the most votes in the primary race.

McGill, a retired Metro Las Vegas detective who now works on the force in Nye County, said voters want a change.

“There’s an aspect of all-encompassing incompetence and her age, her health situation and the feeling she’s not going to be able to be sheriff for the next four years,” McGill said.

McGill, 57, said he often heard voters complaining about the scandals surrounding Capt. David Boruchowitz, detailed in a February Review-Journal investigation. Boruchowitz is Wehrly’s close ally in the department and a leader accused of abusing his power.

Wehrly and the department also came under fire for lax accountability after the news organization revealed policy failures by Nye County deputies, who released a man they suspected was intoxicated an hour before he caused a triple-fatal 2021 crash.

McGill said the department has also failed to serve residents in the northern part of the county.

But Wehrly, who turns 78 in August and recently announced her health has rebounded after cancer treatment, downplayed the fact that more than 70 percent of voters chose a different candidate. With all but the mail-in ballots counted, McGill received 29.92 percent of the vote and Wehrly 28.58 percent.

“I think that’s pretty normal,” she said. “In the 2014, race I think there were 10 of us so the votes are pretty scattered.”

She also said the Review-Journal’s reporting failed to reveal key facts, and the stories were designed to sell papers and not put out the truth.

Wehrly, who previously declined multiple interview requests, said: “I didn’t appreciate that you left some facts out and just wanted to bash the sheriff’s office. Sometimes people make mistakes. They’re human.”

McGill retired as a detective from Metro after 26 years where he worked patrol, the problem-solving unit, and narcotics, along with what’s known as the VIPER Auto Theft Task Force.

Nye Sheriff’s Lt. Eric G. Murphy and Detective Jose “Joe” Parra, Diane Sauter, who worked for a sheriff’s department in Illinois, and Kristin “Tasha” Pfaff, a kickboxer and trainer, also ran in the primary and received between 20.30 and 1.57 percent, preliminary results show.

Controversial tenure

Wehrly, who was first elected in 2014, has faced criticism for years.

The investigation in February found Boruchowitz led a criminal probe into the local power coop at the same time he was running a group to remove the agency’s board. He had previously been investigated by the state’s Office of Professional Responsibility for holding porn matinees at the sheriff’s office with seized explicit home movies and by the FBI for having inappropriate relationships with criminals.

Despite wide-ranging accusations that he has abused his power for years, Boruchowitz escaped serious discipline. He is paid more than his superiors, including Wehrly. Boruchowitz, as a former union president, endorsed Wehrly during her first run, and she has repeatedly promoted him.

Leslie Peeler, commander of OPR at the time of the Boruchowitz porn investigation, told the Review-Journal that he was surprised Boruchowitz remained on the job.

“We have fired people for not nearly that bad of conduct,” said Peeler, who retired in 2018.

Wehrly said investigators didn’t take into account that the county paid Boruchowitz a nearly $200,000 settlement after he claimed the district attorney violated his rights. “They don’t know the whole story,” she said. “The county paid him a lot of money.”

McGill said people told him they are not happy about Boruchowitz’s actions in Nye County but union rules would prevent him from taking any actions against Boruchowitz for past misconduct if he wins the election. He said if Boruchowitz is accused of new misconduct under McGill’s tenure, he would impose proper discipline.

“If he becomes a problem for my administration, we can take action,” he said.

Deputies fail to stop crash

A March 2021 crash brought additional scrutiny to the sheriff’s office.

Four deputies who failed to stop an impaired driver before a triple-fatal crash were found to have violated one policy for evidence procedure after a department review — and received only a written reprimand, records showed. The office for months had also refused to release the results of an internal investigation into the officers’ actions.

The Review-Journal obtained bodycam video that showed officers found drugs and repeatedly discussed that they believed driver Tyler Kennedy was using opioids. Kennedy also told deputies he had to use drugs to avoid withdrawal, according to the video. Kennedy was not given a field sobriety test.

The agency has a policy that requires officers to stop impaired people from driving, but the officers were not found to have violated that rule. Wehrly said two charges were investigated and one was thrown out.

McGill said voters have repeatedly approached him to complain about Wehrly’s actions after the crash.

“A lot of people have commented about the Kennedy situation,” he said. “They’re not happy with people getting a slap on the wrist and nobody has done anything.”

But he said, if elected sheriff, he likely won’t be able to revisit the Kennedy case because of union rules.

Wehrly said officers from the Nevada Highway Patrol and the Bureau of Land Management were also on the scene and didn’t arrest Kennedy, which shows he was not high. And she said Deputy Breanna Nelson followed Kennedy for 30 minutes without seeing signs of impaired driving.

“I think (voters) thought the stories were all hype and it wasn’t the truth,” she said.

In previous years, Wehrly faced complaints about her actions.

In 2018, she apologized for accidentally leaving her gun in a casino bathroom.

A year later, Wehrly invoked Hitler when refusing to enforce the state’s new gun background checks. In March 2020, she said her department would not enforce the governor’s statewide closure decree on local businesses for COVID-19.

She also posted recruitment billboards in 2018 that her critics charged were political campaign ads in disguise. She said independent observers found no problems with the billboards.

“I don’t know why you’re bringing that up now,” she said Wednesday.

McGill and Wehrly will face off in the general election Nov. 8.

The Pahrump Valley Times contributed to this story.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com and follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.

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