By Matt Ward
A request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the Nye County Sheriff’s Office from opening its new $17 million detention facility later this month was filed Tuesday afternoon in District Court.
An attorney with the Nye County Law Enforcement Association prepared the order on behalf of union members. Union president Det. David Boruchowitz filed the temporary restraining order request with the clerk’s office.
The union represents staff-level sheriff’s deputies throughout the county.
The grievance was filed over proposed staffing levels at the new jail among other issues. NCLEA officials complain Sheriff Tony DeMeo is willing to put the safety of employees and inmates in danger in order to get the facility open.
In an affidavit attached to the request, Boruchowitz states that per orders from DeMeo, the new Pahrump jail is scheduled to open on Oct. 24 “with inadequate additional staffing to cover the size and capacity of the facility.”
The 224-bed facility was scheduled to open in August, but minor construction delays and training issues have postponed its opening. The 58,000-square-foot facility was built to replace the current 8,000 square-foot, 35-bed Pahrump Detention Center.
Staffing issues don’t just affect the new jail, according to the detective.
“The staffing levels in the current Pahrump detention facility, the current Tonopah detention facility, and the proposed staffing levels of the new Pahrump detention facility are dangerously low. The Nye County Law Enforcement Association has filed a grievance over the Sheriff’s continued failure to address and remedy employee safety concerns relating to staffing within the detention centers, specifically concerns relating to opening the new facility without appropriate staffing levels. The Sheriff has thus far refused to delay the opening of the new facility,” the affidavit states.
Judge Robert Lane signed the union’s request and scheduled an expedited hearing on the matter for Oct. 25 at 9 a.m.
DeMeo, coincidentally, was handed a summons on the matter by Asst. Sheriff Rick Marshall Tuesday as he sat waiting for commissioners to call him into a private hearing regarding the $1 million he spent beyond his budget in the last fiscal year. DeMeo had already faced intense scrutiny earlier in the day when commissioners received a blistering report on the state of Nye County’s $6 million emergency communications system, for which DeMeo and his subordinates were responsible until recently; the system is not working properly, is outdated and in need of costly repair.
Asked for comment on the union request for a restraining order, DeMeo said he would defer to District Attorney Brian Kunzi since the matter is headed for court.
Kunzi was not available for comment by press time.
According to exhibits attached to NCLEA’s court filing, the union filed a grievance over staffing concerns at the jail as far back as January.
In that initial exchange, the union highlighted several concerns, including that “jail staffing is such that many times there is only one deputy working at any given time.” The grievance points out that often the single deputy doesn’t even have a technician available to monitor surveillance video and take phone calls — should an emergency occur, the grievance notes, there wouldn’t be any lifeline available to the deputy at all.
“There are instances where deputies are called to perform bailiff duties and when they are, there are instances where the jail is then left to the care of the bubble tech (a technician who monitors surveillance, handles records and answers phones) in the jail with no jail deputy present. Due to staffing levels an inmate was almost sent to the hospital without deputy supervision with the ambulance crew while in custody,” the January grievance states.
As part of a mediated settlement to that grievance, the union agreed to allow an “outside agency” to come in and conduct a staffing analysis to include all jails in Nye County save for Beatty’s.
Before that could happen, one inmate, 27-year-old Kristina Lynn Leidecker, killed herself last May in a makeshift cell that offered a private bathroom. Jail deputies were alerted to the woman’s body by her cellmates, all of them crammed into what is usually used as a waiting room. Requests for investigative documents related to the suicide, which may support the union’s argument that dangerous staffing levels indeed exist at the jail, have repeatedly been refused the to Pahrump Valley Times.
NCLEA, meanwhile, requested that it get copies of the requested staffing analysis by June 30. By July, the union received the staffing analysis for the new jail.
“In that study, it recommended the staff for the new Pahrump facility be increased to 1 Lieutenant, 5 Sergeants, 20 Deputies, 5 Detention Technicians,” the document states. “Currently scheduled to work in the new facility is 1 Lieutenant, 1 Reserve Lieutenant, 2 Sergeants, 6 deputies and 2 Detention Technicians.”
The exhibit further states that on Oct. 10, the union attempted to further “the grievance procedure” with DeMeo to no avail and a formal grievance was then filed again.
“Unless the county is enjoined from opening the new facility, the Union’s members will be irreparably harmed because they will be forced into a situation which subjects them to extreme physical injury or death, and serious civil liability,” the court filing states.
In a copy of an Oct. 10 letter to DeMeo from NCLEA’s executive board, a few references are made to internal matters that seem to suggest other negative issues surround some jail staff and jail policies, including a statement that “NCLEA is currently aware of situations that are being administratively investigated in which NCSO Deputies are looking at being disciplined for a failure to stop an act which was potentially a civil rights violation and potentially criminal.” The letter goes on with NCLEA asking, “At what point is the NCLEA obligated to have someone else intervene and ensure that the safety of inmates and the safety of NCSO Deputies is upheld. The old ‘I’m just doing what I’m told’ defense doesn’t work in many cases anymore.”