Was a Nevada sheriff above the law?

Corruption and misconduct in law enforcement is always big news in the media. Whenever a police officer breaks the law the local news agencies are quick to report it. Nothing is wrong with that. Police are not above the law.

News organizations should not let local politics dissuade them from reporting any story, no matter where it might lead. Unfortunately that is not always the case. Some cities have aggressive investigative journalists while others do not.

The citizens of any jurisdiction have the right to know if those who are sworn to protect them are themselves violating the very same laws that any other citizen would be arrested for. Transparency in any law enforcement agency whether that agency is a local police department or a sheriff’s department is what the public demands. After all these organizations are funded by taxpayer dollars.

As a society we demand that police corruption and misconduct be exposed. And we want that to happen from the inside out and not the other way around. It is bad enough that cops who expose corruption, misconduct and injustice within their own departments usually end up on the short end of the stick.

I know that from personal experience, so when I write about corruption I am not just asking those law enforcement officers to do the right thing without any personal experience. I talk the talk because I have walked the walk.

What happens when a police chief or sheriff and other high ranking officials in a police department break the law and get away with it? I can tell you what happens; morale sinks into the dirt.

How can we expect police officers to come forward when they see cover-ups involving top brass who get away with crimes that those at the line level are arrested for? What would be the motivation to expose corruption and misconduct if officers see those at the top getting a free pass? Certainly not for career advancement or at the very least career security.

Studies have shown that proper leadership and command structure are vital to fighting misconduct and corruption in a police department. That concept is fine but what happens when those in command engage in deplorable conduct and it is covered-up? What message does that portray to the rank and file?

The message is, do as I say but not as I do. And if I do I will be free from scrutiny while you my lower level officers will get the book thrown at you.

How could we expect police officers to stand up and do what is right when their own bosses cover up crimes to protect themselves. Do you think that those police officers will ever have respect for those in command who get away with such conduct? I think not. Trust is a crucial part of every team and in cases such as these trust goes out the window.

What happens is that it fosters an atmosphere within that law enforcement agency that corruption and misconduct are condoned, from the top on down. Integrity and accountability are words that are used in the mottos of many law enforcement agencies. Those two words should not only apply to the rank and file but also to administrators and top brass. Sadly often times they do not.

I recently came across a YouTube video from 2010 that appears to raise some of these issues.

In 2010 Clark County, Nevada Sheriff Doug Gillespie who ran the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department at the time was running for re-election.  One of the persons who was running against him was Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Police Officer Laurie Bisch, who served 17 years on the force.

At one sheriff’s debate in May of 2010, which Gillespie was absent, some serious allegations were raised. One of the persons in the audience was retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sergeant, Dave Freeman, a veteran of more than 30 years of  service to the community.

Sgt. Dave Freeman posed this question to Sheriff’s Candidate, Laurie Bisch: “This question is a hypothetical. The most important trait for a candidate for sheriff is the character trait of integrity, that’s the most important thing, also I think critical thinking is an important character trait. So I would like to ask you a hypothetical, how would you handle this situation as Sheriff of Clark County?

“Now it has come to your attention that one of the Metro employees had an inappropriate relationship with a female police officer which was a subordinate to that person and it developed into a domestic violence event at that persons residence where then two Metro police officers responded and based on their investigation that an act of domestic violence had occurred. They attempted to arrest, make an arrest but this employee, they were not successful because the employee said he was of such high rank that they did not have the authority to make the arrest, in other words that this person was above the law. Now additionally the event number that was assigned to them, of his, was deleted, mysteriously disappeared, and lastly the female subordinate involved, one in question was promoted.”

Freeman then asked Bisch, “Now if this came to your attention how would you address that situation?”

Sgt. Freeman’s hypothetical situation would raise not only ethical and moral questions, but criminal charges as well. Domestic violence is serious enough, deleting and then falsifying official police records to cover up a crime is another ballgame, with serious consequences that could open the door to corruption at the highest level.

What was said next was even more disturbing as LVMPD Police Officer Laurie Bisch stood at the podium, held up her badge and stated: “This seven pointed star is everything that stands for integrity, when we hire on at the police department we have an obligation to be truthful, be honest and do what is right.”

That isn’t a hypothetical story, that is an absolute true story and I think those of us who know, know that’s a true story and I won’t mention any names but I can tell you right now per NRS [Nevada Revised Statutes] there’s only three people who can arrest the Sheriff, and that is the coroner, the district attorney and Catherine Cortez Masto, the Attorney General.

That is you know when we talk about transparency, when we talk about being open, when we talk about being honest with the public that we are here to serve, that is a call that did come out of the sheriff’s house.  And the event was changed, it was changed from an original domestic violence call and six hours later it was reported as a burglary alarm.

Where is the integrity, where’s the integrity for everyone that responded to that call, it wasn’t one person, it wasn’t two people, it was a lot of people?  And if it wasn’t a domestic violence call then why did the domestic violence lieutenant get called out on his day off to show up.

I’m just using a little bit of common sense here.

We had another situation where another high ranking person was involved in a domestic violence incident at his house. If that was anybody of you know of — regular police officer, civilian, even sergeants or lieutenants — we would have been booked in jail and so would anybody else in this room.

The fact that special favors were given is not acceptable. There is a level of accountability that we have to hold ourselves too especially in law enforcement.

You know there is an old adage that if you do the crime you should do the time. And there is no person more important on our department to set the example than the sheriff and in this case they didn’t, and they think they got away with something, but I think there’s other folks that are looking into this at a much higher level than we are and let’s hope that the truth comes out.

The YouTube video has been out in the public domain for over five years.

No local news media has picked up on the story and that is particularly strange since they are quick to the draw to report on lower line level police officers who are charged with a crime. Just two weeks ago a news story broke that a LVMPD officer was arrested on domestic violence charges.

Could it be for whatever reason that a sheriff and other high ranking members of the LVMPD are immune from scrutiny by Las Vegas media?  In this case it appears so.

Doug Gillespie won his bid for reelection in 2010.  Gillespie did not run for a third term.

The allegations raised by Laurie Bisch at the open sheriff’s debate never made it to the news. Why was that?

Laurie Bisch retired from the LVMPD after 20 years of service.

This allegation needs to be investigated and probably at the federal level. If police records were indeed altered, changed and or falsified, there would be a trail.

Every officer who responded to the scene should be interviewed. Every high ranking member of the LVMPD who was at the scene or participated in the cover-up should be interviewed. The civilian dispatchers who were working at the Communications Center the night the domestic violence call came in need to be interviewed.

There are many more questions that any competent investigator with the authority to investigate this matter should ask. Was there more to the story that what we have heard?

If what was alleged by Laurie Bisch in 2010 remains a mystery it is not only a disservice to the community but also every member of the LVMPD who do their job with honor and integrity, not to mention the fact the if a cover-up was indeed perpetrated, how many other crimes involving high ranking police personnel were also covered-up over the years?

I don’t believe this is the end to this story.