Longtime Nye County Sheriff’s Office volunteer Ben Gulley is back at work this week after nearly a month following his arrest April 22 alongside Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall.
Ironically, his return coincides with news that more than half-a-dozen deputies, most of whom were involved in the arrests, went on paid “stress leave” this week.
Sources tell the Pahrump Valley Times that the deputies cited an ongoing “hostile work environment” as a reason for walking off the job. Sources also say the deputies plan to file worker compensation claims as a result.
The deputies who left their posts are David Boruchowitz, Harry Williams, Brian Jonas, John Kakavulias, Christopher Gelson, Adam Tippetts and Logan Gibbbs. All but Jonas were reportedly involved in Gulley and Marshall’s arrests over alleged sign stealing related to the sheriff’s race.
The attorney general’s office will handle any prosecutions as a result of those arrests.
Meanwhile, the latest turmoil, which could impact public safety since the sheriff’s office is already short-staffed, appears to be related to a failed smear campaign orchestrated by the Nye County Law Enforcement Association (NCLEA) last year. Beginning in June 2013, the association, which represents street-level deputies and is led by Boruchowitz, its president, concocted a strategy to purposely disrupt sheriff’s office operations, according to an investigative report shared with the Pahrump Valley Times.
The report was produced by Reno-based HR Partners LLC, contracted by the county’s insurance pool to investigate allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and violations of various ethics policies and codes of conduct. The allegations were mostly brought by a female sergeant at the behest of NCLEA leaders and targeted Marshall and Mark Medina, an NCSO lieutenant in charge of jail operations. Marshall was cleared of all wrongdoing, according to the report.
“The union’s manipulation and influence on the environment had created a significant amount of tension and mistrust within the Nye County Sheriff’s Office,” noted the report, which was completed in November last year but not made public.
The report suggests that union members purposely downplayed how the upcoming sheriff’s election figured into their strategy.
“The one area that the union did not elaborate on was the upcoming election and (Sheriff Tony) DeMeo’s decision not to run for re-election. It may be an aspect that was minimized in an attempt for the investigators to believe that it had no bearing on this investigation,” the report states.
The report blasts the female sergeant throughout. For example, she told investigators she kept complete logs of everything that happened to her when she was transferred to the new detention center to work under Medina. However, when it came down to specific information, the sergeant was unable to provide credible evidence for nearly every complaint she and the union made. The sergeant has been on paid “stress leave” for the past 10 months.
Another female deputy made a claim that was also unsubstantiated as far as Marshall. Results of the investigation against Medina remain unknown, though sources say there were some minor infractions held up against him.
When reached by telephone on Thursday, Marshall, who remains the leading candidate to replace DeMeo in November, declined to comment about the grievances and subsequent investigation. However, he did make a statement regarding the deputies on “stress leave.”
“I cannot comment on that because it is a personnel issue. But I want the public to be aware that we are taking all precautions to ensure that the safety and security of the public is maintained. We are thankful for the hard-working men and women of the sheriff’s office who continue to serve the public on a daily basis,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gulley says he had a change of heart during the month he’s been away from the sheriff’s office.
The 76-year-old said he originally quit his volunteer job, which he has held for more than 10 years. He said he was asked to come back this week by a number of NCSO staff members.
“I had no intentions of every having any kind of involvement or working with the county ever again. But I thought about it and I didn’t want people to think I left the sheriff’s office because it’s a bad office — it’s not. I think there are a few bad apples there, but for the most part I have a great deal of respect for 99 percent of the deputies and staff,” he said.
Gulley said he considers many of the NCSO employees like family, and being away from that family has been almost as hard as making a decision on whether or not to go back and volunteer with the agency again.
“It’s like leaving your family and I missed them,” he said. “Actually, I needed to go back too because I was so embarrassed over this whole thing, I was going to Vegas to do my shopping. I would drive to Vegas just to get milk and bread because I didn’t want to see anyone around here. This was to help me and hopefully I would be helping them by coming back too.”
Gulley was arrested after he and Marshall were accused of taking political signs asking people to vote for “Anyone but Rick,” for the next sheriff of Nye County.
More than half-a-dozen officers converged on Marshall and Gulley after the pair had been pulled over to investigate a report from Steven Lee, a 15-year Pahrump resident and president of the political action committee Citizens to Elect an Ethical Nye County Sheriff, that he had allegedly videotaped them take one of his campaign signs.
Gulley said while an attorney for the Nye County Law Enforcement Association (NCLEA) told people during a May 1 press conference that the scene of his arrest was less chaotic than he and Marshall had originally made it seem, the volunteer said it continues to cause him stress — though he won’t be taking any leave over it.
“I had just gotten almost run into head-on in the car, saw deputies try to pull Marshall out of the car with his seat belt still on. I look back and see one guy bringing his gun up out of his holster, I’m afraid I’m going to get shot, I’ve got Det. (David) Boruchowitz screaming in my face, I got a wife at home of 50-some years and I’m trying to figure out what is going on and these lawyers are running around telling people look how calm he is. The only reason I wasn’t overly excited was I just got through watching them beat the hell out of Rick and I didn’t want the same thing to happen to me. The whole thing is just bad, I can’t forget it,” he explained.
“It was hard to come back and it’s been twice as hard to stay. I walk in that building and it’s not the same building anymore,” Gulley said.
DeMeo said he is glad to have Gulley back at the office.
The sheriff said if Gulley did decide to leave again, he would likely have to hire three full-time employees or volunteers to cover the amount of work he does by himself.
“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Whatever the attorney general’s office decides to do in this case is what they decide to do. Until then, Ben is back at work volunteering his time to help the citizens of Nye County,” the sheriff said.
About the multiple grievances filed last year and news regarding the findings of the independent outside investigation, DeMeo said he went above and beyond to either verify or disprove the complaints.
DeMeo said an independent attorney was even hired to review the investigation.
“I gave the investigation, when I got it, to a lawyer for independent review, and based upon that he gave me his legal opinion. And that would be that there were no grounds for discipline,” the sheriff said. “When you have an attorney review something, you follow the attorney’s advice. He was very well aware of what was going on and in the area of IAs (internal affairs investigations). I would consider him a very knowledgeable individual.”
Sources say the investigation into the misconduct allegations cost taxpayers at least $100,000.