53°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy
Flawed
discipline
Henderson officers with years of misconduct kept their jobs. Confidential police records reveal why.
Screenshot of Sportsman's Warehouse surveillance video shows a Henderson police sergeant, with a long history of misconduct allegations, hitting a store employee with a rifle. (Video provided by employee's attorney)

Henderson officers with years of misconduct kept working. Confidential records reveal why.

Updated April 24, 2021 - 10:46 pm

Henderson officers with years of sustained citizen complaints, allegations of sexual misconduct or criminal arrests are still working, and some have been promoted, a Review-Journal investigation of discipline and accountability has found.

One officer, now a lieutenant, faced about 50 allegations with nearly a dozen sustained allegations over his 18-year career, records show. He violated use-of-force rules by kicking a man having diabetic seizure during a highly publicized traffic stop, threatened another while serving a warrant and lied in a police report, according to internal affairs documents. Despite that, he was promoted twice.

A corrections officer who works in the Henderson city jail sent photos of himself naked to a colleague and was twice cited on criminal charges, including once for battery. He was initially fired after a drunken driving charge but reinstated by an arbitrator and continued to have misconduct problems, records show.

A sergeant with more than 30 allegations twice used his rifle to hit innocent people, was arrested for punching his girlfriend and allowed officers to void traffic tickets for “friends of HPD,” records show. He voluntarily retired in 2018 with a $117,000-per-year pension.

Newly released internal affairs records allowed the Review-Journal to identify a small group of Henderson officers with years of substantive violations who escaped serious disciplinary action. Those records provide a closer look at police accountability in the Las Vegas Valley’s second-largest department.

In data going back nearly 20 years, more than 150 Henderson officers were involved in five or more incidents where misconduct allegations were filed against them. About 40 officers had 10 or more sustained allegations, and six of them resigned or were terminated, a Review-Journal analysis of Henderson internal affairs data shows.

READ MORE

READ LESS


Part 2
A career filled with allegations, yet department made him a lieutenant

Henderson police Lt. Brett Seekatz’s career has been filled with misconduct allegations — the most notorious a 2010 traffic stop where video showed he kicked a motorist suspected of DUI five times in the head.

But the driver, Adam Greene, was disoriented and suffering a diabetic episode and later sued police.

Seekatz’ actions, described as sending shock waves across the valley, cost taxpayers almost $300,000 in settlements.

The officer was not terminated, demoted or charged with a crime. But internal affairs sustained an unnecessary-force allegation, and Seekatz, then a sergeant, received a verbal reprimand, records show.

What hasn’t been made public is a list of about 50 misconduct allegations occurring from 20 different incidents investigated by internal affairs, records show. Eleven of the allegations, stemming from five different incidents, were sustained, but Seekatz’s most severe punishment was a written reprimand, according to documents obtained by the Review-Journal.

The Review-Journal identified Seekatz in an analysis of internal affairs data as one of four Henderson police officers who remained on the job despite years of complaints and misconduct, raising questions about agency oversight and fitness to serve.

READ MORE

READ LESS
Part 3
More than 30 complaints, yet this Henderson officer retired with big pension

James Herndon says he was a victim of excessive force when he tried to stop an armed shoplifter at the sporting goods store where he’s a manager.

Herndon, a former state game warden, was tackled by Henderson police officers along with the fleeing suspect, getting punched, kicked and hit on his lower back and head. Then Henderson Sgt. Michael Gillis ran to the scrum, hit Herndon with the butt of an M4 rifle and used his taser, court records and surveillance video from the January 2018 confrontation show.

“I was getting hit in the face,” Herndon told the Review-Journal. “I don’t know if I was being kicked or punched with a closed fist. At some point, someone struck me in the head with an object — I didn’t know it — learned later it was a rifle. All I saw was a bright flash.”

Gillis, 51, had more than 30 internal affairs allegations tied to a dozen personal and professional incidents, including a finding in 2015 that he inappropriately used his rifle to subdue a suspect, similar to the way he struck Herndon, internal affairs records show.

James Herndon, a retired game warden officer who spent 21 years with the Nevada Department of W ...
James Herndon, a retired game warden officer who spent 21 years with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at Sunset Park, in Las Vegas. He is suing Henderson police for excessive force. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @benjaminhphoto

Detailed internal affairs records released by the Henderson Police Department for the first time reveal Gillis’ extensive history of sustained complaints, raising questions about accountability for officers who continually break the rules.

Four days after the confrontation, Herndon, 57, filed an internal affairs complaint against Gillis and the other officers. He said investigators told him the force used was appropriate, and they indicated Gillis had no significant prior problems. Herndon filed a lawsuit in early 2019.

But records the Review-Journal obtained show internal affairs found sustained complaints against Gillis for punching his girlfriend, authorizing his subordinates to void tickets for “Friends of HPD” and using a rifle to strike another man.

Herndon attorney Marjorie Hauf’s attempts to get Gillis’ excessive force histories through discovery were rebuffed with assistant city attorney Nancy Savage arguing in a May 2020 filing that the information is confidential, court records show.

Herndon and Hauf said they only learned about some of the allegations against Gillis when the Review-Journal called to interview Herndon.

Herndon, an assistant hunting manager at Sportsman’s Warehouse on Marks Street in Henderson, said that after internal affairs investigators failed to do anything, he decided to sue the city in the hope that Henderson police would improve their disciplinary process and weed out cops like Gillis before they hurt innocent people.

“I got told, ‘Well, it’s unfounded — what they did was OK,’” said Herndon, who in court records says he suffered an orbital fracture, concussion, blurry vision and nerve damage in his face that affects his ability to taste food. “I was angry. It’s just not right.”

Henderson officials and Gillis, through his attorney, declined comment because of Herndon’s pending lawsuit.

READ MORE

READ LESS
Part 4
“Creepy cop” loses his job but only after years of misconduct

In nine years as a Henderson police officer, Michael Ray Stevens earned the nickname “Creepy Cop” and was the subject of 60 internal affairs investigations stemming from a dozen separate incidents, police files show.

Stevens paid a prostitute for sex and repeatedly harassed women and was fired in 2014 after 20 sustained violations related to attempts to make driving under the influence cases against three people who either weren’t drunk or weren’t driving a vehicle, according to internal affairs complaints.

But the extent of his disciplinary history, revealed in internal affairs records released to the Review-Journal, demonstrates how much inappropriate and potentially criminal behavior an officer can get away with before losing his gun and badge.

Stevens, now 45, is one of four Henderson officers identified through rarely seen documents who remained on the job for years despite misconduct validated by investigations and repeated complaints.

Henderson police hired Stevens in 2005.

Former Henderson police officer Michael Ray Stevens was arrested on sexual assault and domestic ...
Former Henderson police officer Michael Ray Stevens was arrested on sexual assault and domestic battery charges after the department fired him, but prosecutors dropped both cases. Stevens had a long history of misconduct allegations before he was fired, records show. (Henderson Police Department)

Within five years, he received five complaints for bad demeanor, ethics violations and use of force, records show, but internal affairs determined the complaints were unfounded.

In August 2010, a prostitute arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department at Aria told them a Henderson officer was paying her for sex. Metro officers set up a sting, and Stevens was arrested, records show.

He admitted to internal affairs that he had sex with the prostitute and used Craigslist to hire another prostitute, records show. The criminal charges were dropped, but internal affairs determined Stevens violated rules governing personal misconduct and associating with prostitutes. He received an 80-hour suspension.

Stevens could not be reached for comment, and his criminal attorney, Nicholas Wooldridge, did not return calls or emails. Henderson Police Chief Thedrick Andres declined to comment on cases that happened prior to him joining the department in 2018.

In the last full year he was with the city, Stevens made $132,000 in pay and benefits, including $4,300 in overtime, Transparent Nevada data shows.

Samuel Walker, emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said his research found officers with repeated problems often remain on the force for years.

“What we have is a pattern of really unchecked misconduct and reluctance to discipline those involved in misconduct,” he said.

READ MORE

READ LESS
Part 5
Corrections officer still working, despite a DUI, sexual harassment claims

Henderson corrections officer Darius Brown was angry and irritated when a family argument at a neighbor’s house disturbed him in the early morning hours a few weeks before Thanksgiving 2018.

Brown, 40, off-duty at the time, entered the neighbor’s home through an open door, pushed a 24-year-old woman who was trying to get him to leave her house and threatened to return with his gun if the family didn’t quiet down, internal affairs and police records show.

Weslie Robles, whose father and brothers were arguing at 7 a.m. when Brown confronted the family, said it was a scary situation for her, her siblings and parents.

“He just kept coming closer and trying to confront my younger brothers,” Robles told the Review-Journal in January.

Brown was cited for battery, which was removed from his record after he completed a diversion program. Henderson internal affairs investigators sustained violations of conduct unbecoming, being involved in a crime and attempting to use his job to receive favors, records show. He was punished with a 40-hour suspension and anger management training for the incident.

Metro police bodycam video screenshot shows Henderson corrections officer Darius Brown in the d ...
Metro police bodycam video screenshot shows Henderson corrections officer Darius Brown in the doorway of his home during questioning by Metro police officers in November 2018. (Body camera video from Las Vegas Metropolitan Police)

The confrontation was only the latest misconduct allegation against Brown. Internal affairs has investigated more than 40 charges over five different incidents involving Brown in less than 10 years, records show. Brown’s record of criminal charges and breaking rules is just one example of Henderson officers keeping their jobs despite repeated, sustained complaints, raising questions about Henderson’s disciplinary process and internal affairs misconduct investigations, a Review-Journal investigation found.

Brown remains on duty at the Henderson jail working with, and supervising, inmates. He and his attorney, Michael Becker, did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment.

In reports about the early-morning confrontation, Brown admitted to internal affairs investigators that he made threats to neighbors but said he did not threaten to get a gun.

“‘Shut the F—- up,’” Brown told investigators about what he said during the confrontation. “If you don’t stop I’ll F—- you up.’” He also admitted threatening to “fight the father” for telling him to get out, records show.

He conceded that he did not use his best judgment that morning, records show. “I didn’t go over there professional,” the internal affairs report quotes him as saying. “I was pretty much in intimidation mode; I was really trying to get my point across.” Brown blames some of his behavior on protecting his young daughter, who was at his house that morning.

In 2019, Brown made $168,000 in pay and benefits, including $10,000 in overtime, according to Transparent Nevada.

READ MORE

READ LESS
Part 6
Nevada lawmakers might make some police misconduct files secret

Lawmakers around the country have pushed to make police internal affairs records public, but the Nevada Legislature is considering a bill that would close off key investigative documents.

Assembly Bill 58 would give the Nevada attorney general power to investigate patterns of civil rights complaints in local police agencies and would require him to release a report. But the legislation includes a provision that “the identity of a witness, any procedure, testimony taken, document or other tangible evidence produced” be exempt from Nevada’s public records laws.

Richard Karpel, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said the legislation would be a step backward for transparency in police misconduct inquiries.

“AB58 would, in most cases, shroud pattern and practice investigations in secrecy,” he said in an email exchange. “The amended version of the bill would require the Attorney General to issue a report about the investigations but would still hide the underlying evidence from public view. That’s a recipe for distrust and conspiracy theories.”

The bill is sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, but its chairman, Steve Yeager, declined comment, sending questions to Attorney General Aaron Ford, at whose request the bill was introduced.

“A lack of confidentiality would undoubtedly lead to a chilling effect on people willing to come forward to disclose information,” Ford told the committee on March 16.

Ford’s chief of staff, Jessica Adair, said the bill would not stop the requirement for police agencies to produce records.

“AB58 does not change any existing public records law as it applies to law enforcement agencies,” she said in an emailed statement. “Agencies still must disclose their records subject to public records law, whether or not those documents are also used in a pattern and practice investigation.”

Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro presides during a Judiciary Committee meeting in February 2019. (K.M. Ca ...
Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro presides during a Judiciary Committee meeting in February 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

State law and disclosure

Police accountability nationwide is under intense scrutiny amid growing allegations of police abuse or misconduct, and the landmark trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murder in the death of George Floyd this week.

In Nevada, state law does not exempt internal affairs files from disclosure under public records laws, but police departments have cited court rulings balancing the public’s right to know with employee privacy to withhold the records.

This year, about 160 bills in 40 states have been introduced addressing police data collection and transparency, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah said Nevada lawmakers should join the national trend of requiring agencies to release internal affairs records. “I think what we have to do is, we really have to push … from a policy perspective, for increased transparency,” he said.

Lawmakers in this and past sessions have passed or proposed other legislation impacting police misconduct and use of force. This session the Senate passed a bill that would require police to use de-escalation techniques and identify themselves before using force. On April 14, the Senate passed SB212, which requires officers to use the least amount of force necessary and prohibits the indiscriminate use of nonlethal rounds during protests. The bill moved to the Assembly.

2019 bill

In 2019, the Legislature made it more difficult to investigate police misconduct by limiting the time for an investigation and stopping supervisor questioning if there is going to be a misconduct investigation, under what is commonly known as the Police Officer Bill of Rights.

But in last year’s special legislative session, which happened after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, spawning protests in Nevada and around the world, lawmakers reversed many of the provisions of the 2019 law, which was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro. A provision in the 2019 law that wasn’t reversed: a prohibition on releasing officers’ photographs unless they are charged with crimes.

Las Vegas police union President Steve Grammas slammed Senate Bill 2, which he said removed police protections to satisfy law enforcement critics.

“I think it was disgusting that Sen. Cannizzaro failed to back law enforcement,” he said. “It was a 1,000 percent related to the political climate and what was happening across country.”

Cannizzaro, a Las Vegas Democrat and prosecutor with the Clark County district attorney’s office, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The Las Vegas police union endorsed Cannizzaro’s Republican rival, April Becker, in the November election, but Becker narrowly lost that race.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane @reviewjournal.com or at 702-383-0286. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST