Respected Metro officer now at center of drug probe

Just a few weeks ago, Lt. Steve Menger was a member of Metro’s multifaceted approach to counterterrorism preparedness and homeland security.

Menger was among the esteemed panelists featured at the April forum sponsored by the UNLV Institute for Security Studies and the Nevada Commission for Homeland Security called “Local Law Enforcement Capabilities: Response and Mitigation.”

According to a news release, Menger and Metro Sgt. Joe Martin “explained the MACTAC concept, which provides officers with the tactical knowledge, skills and abilities to respond to any violent situation which requires immediate police intervention.”

Among other panelists: Sheriff Doug Gillespie, Supervisory Special Agent Rod Swanson of the FBI Las Vegas Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Maj. David Sellen, commander of the Nevada Army National Guard. These people undergo exhaustive background checks before receiving security clearances. Character counts. All in all, it’s pretty good company.

Now Menger finds himself in the middle of a narcotics possession investigation that already has dramatically changed the company he keeps.

Metro veterans issued a collective groan after learning of the ongoing drug probe of Menger, a 19-year department veteran lately assigned to patrol.

Menger has been relieved of duty pending the outcome of what has been described as a joint local and federal drug investigation. Menger is suspected of being in possession of large quantities of painkillers of the type prescribed by physicians.

Neither Metro officials nor federal law enforcement authorities would comment, but I’ve confirmed that the U.S. attorney’s office is preparing to prosecute the case. Here’s what else I’ve been able to piece together:

First, one informed source says, the case against Menger includes video surveillance. Far from an election-year gotcha caper, this investigation germinated from apolitical sources. When the troubling reports came to Sheriff Gillespie’s attention, he was said to be furious and immediately devoted all available police resources to determine the facts and end any problem for the department.

Attempts to reach Menger for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

Like many Metro veterans, he has spent time in several different assignments. Among them: Emergency Management and Narcotics.

In November 2004, Menger testified at the trial of William Brooks, a former North Las Vegas undercover narcotics detective accused of drug dealing. Menger told a jury that the investigation was unable to gather enough evidence against the wily Brooks.

While reliable sources this past week said Menger was being investigated for possible distribution charges, the file is currently viewed as a possession case. And no source would confirm whether another Metro officer or local physician was involved.

But neither is this simply a matter of a cop with feet of clay succumbing to drug use. Metro’s employment contract encourages personnel who develop dependency issues to come forward and seek treatment without sanction. I have learned this is not a situation in which an officer with a back problem accidentally became addicted to pain medication.

Menger’s current trouble runs contrary to a career that at times has carried a substantial amount of responsibility.

In 2008 as a member of the department’s Homeland Security Division, Menger served as an alternate on Clark County’s Local Emergency Planning Committee, which seeks to obtain funding for security preparedness and helps public and private entities coordinate with first responders such as police and firefighters.

In a February meeting that year, Menger spoke of the need to work closely with Strip casinos to improve professional relationships.

That June, Menger was a featured panelist at a program sponsored by UNLV’s Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering and its security studies program titled, “Protecting America: A Forum on Earthquake Preparedness.” For Menger, it was another in a long line of appearances as a homeland security expert.

All that’s over now.

His career crumbling around him, today Steve Menger’s world is anything but secure.

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.

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