Shine some light on civil-rights complaint

Brian Elder knows what happened the afternoon of Dec. 24, 1999. Carson City sheriff's deputies know what happened too.

But their versions of the truth are far from agreement. And all Carson City taxpayers know for sure is they're footing the bill for $85,000 to settle a lawsuit Elder brought against the deputies and city.

Carson City supervisors approved the settlement this week with no discussion. The District Attorney's Office recommended paying the settlement rather than playing out the issue in court because of the chance attorney fees alone could hit $150,000.

Elder was arrested that afternoon for an incident starting from a neighbor's complaint that Elder and a buddy were riding dirt bikes too close to homes.

How did it come to this -- four years later we're paying the kind of money that, by comparison, the city couldn't afford to give its many community organizations?

Elder says deputies handcuffed him, threw him to the ground, beat and kicked him. The deputies say he fought with them and resisted arrest.

The result: Elder was acquitted of the charges against him and the city has now paid his claims of civil-rights violations.

But that's not the end. The impression certainly has been created these deputies did something wrong, but they didn't get their day in court.

Perhaps they did get their chance before a disciplinary committee at the Sheriff's Department, but the public doesn't know that. Nor does the public know whether action was taken, or whether the deputies have been disciplined for previous incidents.

These issues are considered personnel matters under Nevada's wishy-washy open-records laws, not worthy of public scrutiny. All the public gets is the bill.

Any law enforcement agency confident of its ability to properly investigate and resolve complaints of excessive force should be willing to place those investigations in the public light. And any government official who complains about the cost of paying attorneys in lawsuits should realize people like Elder, in order to defend their civil rights, have no choice but to hire one.


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