I was as shocked as anyone in town this week to learn that a veteran law enforcement officer was facing multiple felony charges for stealing prescription drugs from the Nye County Sheriff’s Office.
It would appear that Sgt. Michael Horn has succeeded, like many who battle drug addiction daily, in self-destructing in spectacular fashion, hurting himself, his career, his family, his friends, his co-workers, not to mention enraging a good many citizens.
And his transgressions are just the latest.
His arrest comes on the heels of a still-unfolding case against another deputy, Royce Avena, who was arrested in December for entering his estranged wife’s home and holding her there against her will.
His wife, who is seeking a divorce, took out a restraining order against Avena after the incident, but apparently the deputy doesn’t know what a restraining order is. I fully expect new criminal charges any day against this guy if what my sources are telling me is correct.
In a third instance of local cops behaving badly, a grand jury in Las Vegas is still pondering charges against a former deputy who was fired last year. Dan Ellis was caught allegedly brutalizing a homeless man with a Tazer inside the Nye County Detention Center in September 2012. He was fired after an extensive investigation ended in February 2013 — this newspaper wasn’t informed of the incident until after Ellis was let go, a shameful lack of transparency if you ask me.
Shameful also since a slew of other deputies sat around and watched Ellis Tazer this man and didn’t do anything about it. Those deputies were disciplined as well, or so I’m told.
Even the department’s own union president, David Boruchowitz, a seasoned, high-energy detective popular with a lot of his fellow deputies, remains under investigation for some alleged misdeeds involving a criminal suspect, a snitch, a public defender and the lawyer’s wife.
That soap opera’s ending has not yet been written. It could certainly spell more embarrassment for a department literally reeling right now.
That smell, that’s future litigation you smell.
Add all this together and it makes for one big, giant cow paddy sandwich that doesn’t just affect cops and county officials. It affects this community as a whole. Security, trust in our institutions, accountability, you name it.
It’s not just the arrests. Not just the bad apples. No.
Sheriff Tony DeMeo was nearly prosecuted for over-spending his budget last year. He was so embattled, politically emasculated, even I felt sympathy for the poor guy. Lucky for him the attorney general’s office declined the case — there was no malice in DeMeo’s overspending.
But the damage was most assuredly done.
That was not the sheriff’s only problem, either. He’s at the helm of a department divided, one side against another. That too has me concerned and should concern you, since we’re the ones footing the costs of this internal strife.
If you don’t know what I’m referring to here, that’s partially my fault. We’ve been remiss in covering some of the deeper personnel issues — such issues tend to be pretty private — currently embroiling the NCSO.
For instance, the PVT has learned that NCSO administrators are dealing with an avalanche of near-daily union grievances and some Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints alleging everything from gender discrimination to pettier disagreements.
One female sergeant, for example, has been on paid leave since the summer over a grievance involving the promotion of Lt. Mark Medina in June. Paid LEAVE for six months! At a time when the sheriff says he is struggling to replace supervisors who have left or been bought out.
Ugh. What lies underneath all this that is not being shared with the public I shudder to imagine.
And everyone is to blame. Not just DeMeo. These deputies running amok — coercing elderly women out of their pain pills is so God awful, it leaves one speechless, but I hardly blame DeMeo for it. But I do fear that it could be the tip of the iceberg if we’re not vigilant.
Horn’s arrest has created a serious need for reflection among top NCSO brass. Are their policies working? Is their leadership sound? Is their oversight up to par? How serious is the mismanagement and is it even fixable with the people in place there now?
Honest answers to those questions are necessary and the public deserves nothing short of an accounting of what is being done to fix these issues. The union, NCSO administration, the county all are culpable, all are responsible for this.
County commissioners and county management should ask themselves: Are the tighter purse strings worth the lack of leadership and supervision that seems to be plaguing the sheriff’s office? Is saving a few hundred thousand dollars today worth spending 10 times that later in legal costs, settlements and liability insurance increases?
Because really, what’s next with this department?
I hope it’s some soul-searching, some healing and some fixes that put these concerns to rest. Or will it be another Horn, or Avena or Ellis?
And I hope what I’m saying is not taken the wrong way. I think almost every single person working for the NCSO is a good public servant, coming to work every day, doing their duty, upholding their oath and performing to the best of their abilities.
I for one admire the ladies and gentlemen, who despite NCSO’s shortcomings, still perform a valuable service day in and day out in support of this community’s well-being. I can’t say that enough.
That spirit merely needs to be channeled into fixing this institution, reversing this toxic culture that threatens to further tarnish the department.
The public demands nothing less. There’s an election coming up for sheriff. There’s two seats up on the county commission. The public wants answers and they want solutions and they want them now.