Board Reinstates Police Officer Fired After Trailer Park Run-In

 

Monday, September 15, 1997

William Stark says Sheriff Jerry Keller will disregard or appeal an order to put him back on the LV police force.

By Joe Schoenmann
Review-Journal

A Las Vegas police officer, fired two years ago after being accused of bursting into a Boulder Highway trailer home and terrorizing a couple, has been reinstated to the police force.
Officer William Stark, fired by Sheriff Jerry Keller in July 1995, can go back to his old job at entry-level pay Sept. 26, the Civil Service Board has ruled.
But 30-year-old Stark, reached at his home 180 miles north of Las Vegas in Pioche, said he is confident the sheriff will do everything he can to keep him off the force.
“He’ll either disregard totally the board’s decision or at the last day appeal it,” said Stark, who works for the Nevada Department of Prisons. “Metro has all the money and all the time, and they don’t care.”
Keller referred questions about whether the Police Department would appeal the decision to Doug Spring, police personnel executive director.
“A decision hasn’t been made yet,” Spring said, adding that the final determination will be made by the department’s executive staff before the end of the month.
In its ruling, the Civil Service Board said Stark should have been punished, not fired, for the Oct. 20, 1993 incident.
“The level of discipline imposed by the (Police Department) was not proportionate to the violation committed by officer Stark,” the board said in its Aug. 29 ruling.
Stark and officer William Van Cleef came under heavy media scrutiny after Randy Holder and Cynthia Calli accused the pair of terrorizing them at the couple’s home.
The officers’ run-in with the couple stemmed from Stark losing his off-duty badge and weapon while frequenting a nearby tavern, the Free Throw Lounge, 5749 Boulder Highway, with Van Cleef. Stark left a fanny pack containing the badge and gun behind when he went to the restroom. The pack was gone when he returned.
Police eventually arrested Robert Bonata, also known as “Bam-Bam,” on suspicion of taking the items after he tried to enter a crime scene using the stolen badge.
But Van Cleef and Stark didn’t know about that yet. What they knew was that Bonata, who had been sitting just behind them, had left the tavern. They were told that some people in a nearby trailer would know how to contact Bonata, so they went to the trailer.
“What happened at the home of Mr. Holder and Ms. Calli is the subject of conflicting testimony,” the Civil Service Board said.
Stark and Van Cleef, wearing shorts and T-shirts, knocked on the door of the trailer home, and Holder answered. Stark didn’t have his badge, so he handed over his police identification card.
The two officers entered the home and began to question Holder. “We knew he wasn’t the one,” said Stark, adding that the two were only trying to determine if Holder knew where Bonata had gone.
Though the officers deny harassing the couple, Van Cleef later admitted that he pulled the telephone cord out of the wall when Calli tried to call 911.
The two left, Stark said, when Calli started getting irate.
“His old lady runs into the bathroom screaming, ‘You can’t take my boyfriend to jail!’ ” Stark said. “About 30 seconds later, we left.”
Holder and Calli “blew it out of proportion” in talking to the local media, Stark said.
“They got the media involved, and once the media is involved with the police, it automatically turns into a bad situation,” Stark said. “The media always seems to jump on a cop story.”
Eventually, Stark pleaded no contest to the reduced misdemeanor charge of trespassing. Van Cleef pleaded guilty to coercion and no contest to battery.
For two years the officers were suspended without pay. Keller, elected in November 1994, fired them in July 1995.
In May 1996, the two officers settled out of court with Calli and Holder, who had sued, claiming their civil rights had been violated. The officers paid them $4,000 total; the Police Department paid the couple an additional $7,500.
The officers, meanwhile, took their cases to arbitration, where Van Cleef won and Stark lost.
Despite Van Cleef’s victory, the Police Department refused to reinstate him. He appealed to District Court, which sided with the department. Van Cleef appealed, though, and the case is in the hands of the Nevada Supreme Court. The date for an oral hearing has not been set, said Van Cleef’s attorney, Tom Beatty.
Stark took a different route, appealing his case to the Civil Service Board, which reinstated him in August.
Now, Stark says, if the department doesn’t appeal the board’s decision, he will gladly rejoin the force.
“I’m not saying I didn’t make any mistakes,” he said of the 1993 incident. “I shouldn’t have investigated it myself, but I did. Now I want to get back to my job.”