Clark County sheriff’s race: A competition or coronation?

We’re about to find out just how competitive the race for Clark County sheriff really is.

On paper, there are at least three candidates with the needed traits — experience, support and determination — to make a practical run for outgoing Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s job.

But in Las Vegas, the only paper that has mattered in the history of the sheriff’s race has been money — in particular, casino money. And one of the candidates has a lot more than his competitors.

That’s Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who has the support of Gillespie and former Sheriff Bill Young, now vice president of security for Station Casinos. With Gillespie and Young’s support of Lombardo — Station and many other powerful local companies have backed him — Lombardo has significantly outraised his opponents, securing nearly a million dollars. That allowed Lombardo to purchase a $250,000 TV ad campaign before the primary.

It’s typical for an outgoing sheriff to pick his successor, leading to significant campaign support for the chosen candidate. Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith dubbed the process a “coronation.”

But with no incumbent in the race, Lombardo is facing stronger challengers than usual.

His chief opponents, retired Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody and retired Capt. Larry Burns, are running for the job on different platforms.

Burns was a longtime SWAT commander who started with Metro Police in 1986. He helmed Bolden Area Command until his retirement last year. He is heavily favored among patrol officers and was endorsed by Metro’s three unions. He also has the support of former Sheriff Jerry Keller and Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

Burns has campaigned heavily on the community-oriented policing model he oversaw in Bolden. The Sherman Gardens Initiative, an extension of the Safe Village program, was destroyed to reduce violent crime in West Las Vegas, a poor, historically black neighborhood west of downtown Las Vegas.

Burns’ campaign website says he wants to expand those principles across the valley to “build a stronger relationship of trust and cooperation between officers and citizens — the first critical step in reducing crime and making neighborhoods safer.”

He did not return a call from the Review-Journal for this story.

Both of Burns’ opponents have been critical of his handling of a lieutenant’s probation in the aftermath of the 2011 shooting death of Gulf War veteran Stanley Gibson. Burns’ superiors said he ignored an order from his boss to extend the probation of Lt. Dave Dockendorf, who worked for Burns, despite the pending internal and criminal investigations into the Gibson shooting.

Moody said the incident proved Burns would serve the interests of the police unions, not the public. Moody said his priority as sheriff would be to reduce the use of deadly force by police by raising the bar for officers. He won’t allow the police unions or casinos to dictate the sheriff’s duties, he said.

“I’m an independent candidate. I’m not obligated to the same old special interests,” Moody said. “We’ve had enough anointed sheriff candidates and the business as usual.”

After 30 years at the department, Moody abruptly retired in July after Gillespie overruled a Use of Force Review Board’s recommendation to fire an officer who shot an unarmed man. Moody had revamped and chaired the board, which was considered a rubber-stamp process favoring officers.

Moody claimed Gillespie undermined the integrity of the board, but his critics said the retirement was a politically choreographed move to bolster his bid for sheriff.

Moody said he didn’t want to leave the department, but wasn’t satisfied with the administration’s direction.

“We need to take Metro out of the hands of the special interests and return it to the common interest and good of the people of this community,” he said.

Moody said he was the only candidate who didn’t support the More Cops sales tax increase. He told the Clark County Commission, which rejected the proposal, that the measure would force Metro to spend the funds inefficiently.

“Metro’s got to be much more efficient and work within its assigned budget,” he said. “I don’t believe the answer now involves raising taxes.”

Lombardo has the funding, and — like Moody — has management experience.

He has been an officer with Metro for 25 years, the last three as an assistant sheriff. He commanded several divisions at Metro, including homeland security, search and rescue and patrol.

Lombardo said it’s important for the next sheriff to remain connected to the issues, and it’s notable that he’s the only candidate still at Metro. He was front and center during the April standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville.

“Crime is constantly changing,” Lombard said. “It’s very hard to catch up in this business. In six months, it changes.”

Lombardo said he has support from the entire community, not just the casinos. And he doesn’t view the casinos’ support as a problem.

“Moody says special interests are funding me,” he said. “My response is, that’s our lifeblood of this community. Why wouldn’t I want their support?”

Lombardo said he might have support from Gillespie and Young, but he has different ideas.

One of his plans is to change the way Metro investigates some crimes against people, such as robberies. Instead of a centralized robbery bureau, for example, he wants detectives in the neighborhood substations to investigate those cases. Criminals often operate in one area, he said, and detectives in a region are more familiar with them.

Lombardo said he is the most qualified and educated candidate, with a master’s degree in crisis and emergency management from UNLV. Moody also has a master’s degree, but Lombardo said he is a better leader.

“I prided myself on building a team and gaining consensus,” he said.

And although Burns promotes his work at Bolden Area Command, Lombardo said his projects as assistant sheriff were significant to the entire community.

“Those projects had a countywide effect, not a small geographical effect,” he said.

Six other candidates are running smaller, grass-roots campaigns for sheriff.

One of the most recognizable names in the race hasn’t been a cop since 1999, but he is convinced the voters are ready for a throwback candidate.

Robert “Bobby G” Gronauer retired from Metro as a sergeant and immediately stepped into office as the Las Vegas township constable. He spent 12 years as constable — bringing its finances out of the red and into the black — before losing to John Bonaventura in 2010.

Gronauer said he runs a successful private investigations business that employs 12.

“Some of these guys? All they know is being a cop. I am the most well-rounded candidate,” he said.

One of his first priorities would be to reverse Metro’s new policy of not responding to noninjury vehicle accidents, he said.

Cadets, who aren’t armed, would replace the officers after some time, Gronauer said.

“We can have 100 cadets doing the job for the cost of 30 officers,” he said.

Gronauer acknowledged that the other candidates have more money, but he said that doesn’t matter. He outspent Bonaventura in 2010 but still lost, he said.

“We need to bring this department back to the times of (sheriffs) Ralph Lamb and John Moran,” he said. “This department and its administration is so top-heavy, it’s crazy.”

District Court Marshal Angel Barboza was police chief in Wendover, Utah, for five years and has worked as a court marshal in Las Vegas since 2006.

He said Metro has become a stagnant department that is in desperate need of reorganization. The unions are dictating too many policies, he said.

“The Police Department is disconnected from the community. They have all their internal fighting going on, and we the community are the ones suffering,” Barboza said.

Barboza said he would reduce the number of executive officer positions, cutting all assistant sheriffs, and the money would be used for frontline officers.

“We need to make sure the community is protected,” he said.

Another candidate with Metro experience is former Detective Gordon Martines, a perennial candidate for sheriff who has been critical of Gillespie’s leadership. He joined the department in 1978 and was fired this year after a lengthy medical leave. He is fighting to get his job back.

Martines did not return a call seeking comment.

Bail bondsman Tim Deam ran for sheriff in 2010, but lost in the primary. He said he was a military police officer in the ’80s and has been a bondsman in Las Vegas for 17 years.

In 2006, Deam was arrested in a murder-for-hire plot targeting a colleague. The two men had been battling in court over ownership of Dirty Deeds Bail Bonds. Deam was charged with one count of soliciting murder.

According to court records, Deam was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to commit a crime and to battery with substantial bodily harm, both gross misdemeanors. He was sentenced to 15 months in jail, given credit for the time he had spent at Clark County Detention Center and released.

Deam said he was trying to expose corruption by former District Attorney David Roger. His arrest was his punishment, he said. “It was a setup,” he said.

Deam said he wouldn’t take a salary and would clean up the department. He would start by arresting some officers involved in police shootings.

“Those who committed blatant murders or manslaughters will be brought to justice,” he said. “A lot of officers will be going to prison, and a few of them will end up on death row.”

Kenneth “Nick” Page and Bill Roman also filed for the office. Page, a Metro patrol officer since 2006, said he didn’t expect to win but wanted to publicly express his dissatisfaction with the department’s direction.

The number Roman listed on his candidate filing was not in service.

The top two finishers in the nonpartisan primary will move on to November’s general election.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at Follow @blasky on Twitter.

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