Are Seniors/Vulnerable Victims Disposable? Crime and the Clark County Judicial System Re -Victimization: An Indignity Crime Victims Must Face
By: Angel De Fazio, BSAT/ Investigative Reporter
Clark County seniors owe Vegas Voice political editor Rana Goodman gratitude for her tireless advocacy to protect them from predatory guardians. Through her efforts, with the help of victim family members, the Guardianship Court removed hearing master Norheim and Judge Hoskins and brought some sanity back into the Family Court system. Metro and the District Attorney’s office supported creation of this new court.
Even with this new Court, seniors and vulnerable victims (often one in the same) are arguably treated with less respect and consideration in the local judicial system than any other local demographic.
This article is the first in a series on judicial system barriers seniors and vulnerable victims face in Clark County. One might say seniors and vulnerable victims are ‘re-victimized’ by the District Attorney’s office (DA) and the Public Defender’s Office (PD). Reluctant victims of crime become ensnared in an antediluvian bureaucracy focused on self-perpetuation rather than championing genuine justice and crime victims.
During the process of convicting those accused of crimes against seniors and vulnerable people, the local judicial system tends to be more concerned with the accused criminals, effectively putting the victim through a second nightmare, or ‘re-victimizing’ the already traumatized victim.
The public reasonably believes that the DA’s office exists to prosecute crimes and ensure justice is rendered. Under the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, every accused is entitled to legal representation. Thus, we have the PD, who provides these services to those unable to afford a private attorney.
DA Steve Wolfson’s Comments
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson was interviewed by this reporter on March 21, 2016. During the course of our interview, DA Wolfson expressed his willingness to investigate bringing emotional-support dogs into court as an aid when children, seniors and others intimidated by the justice system must testify. He stated he could not take credit for the idea; it was given to him by an employee.
One of the other subjects we covered was the number of crimes against seniors (62+) in Clark County. In the last five years, the total number of convictions totaled just under 600, a seemingly small number.
DA Wolfson stated his office does not have the time and resources to bring every criminal case to trial. Therefore, they plea them out, i.e., pursue a lesser charge by mutual agreement with the accused and the accused’s legal counsel for which the accused will plead guilty. This situation offers little comfort to the two million plus residents of Clark County, but it has the regressive effect of artificially inflating conviction numbers.
In Nevada, there is a statute regarding ‘enhanced sentencing’ for crimes against seniors. Ostensibly, this would be a great tool for the DA to recommend harsher penalties for convicted law violators. However, when the DA agrees to a lesser plea in most criminal cases, would-be criminals and those already accused have an increased incentive to prey on seniors with little probability for severe penalties.
Justice Gone Awry
I will be profiling a criminal case where Ron Newsome, a candidate for Assembly District 17, was the victim of a crime and how the judicial system failed him and society. Newsome is a single parent with an adult special-needs son, self-employed, and a 35-year Las Vegas resident.
Newsome completed a video recalling the mental anguish caused by the dismissive attitude of the DA’s office and the light sentencing imposed by the presiding judge. The following statements come from this video:
On July 11, 2015, Newsome was home alone when Miles Brown robbed his home at approximately 10 a.m. Video cameras demonstrated that Brown first attempted to enter through a back door, then hopped a wall and came through the front door.
Brown took money, personal property, the keys to Newsome’s vehicle, and drove off with the vehicle. North Las Vegas police responded in a professional, empathetic manner. The police obtained copies of the video and followed up to ensure Newsome’s safety while Brown was at-large.
Four days after the crimes against Newsome, Brown invaded the North Las Vegas home of five people while they were sleeping, terrorized the family, stole their car, crashed it and set it on fire.
“Brown was to have been charged with five felonies and felony arson. None of those charges ever materialized.”
“When it came time for the DA’s office to prosecute this case, a different assistant DA was present for each hearing. This stream of individuals had no grasp of the case and did not communicate with victim Newsome.”
Newsome contacted this writer regarding the DA’s Victim Assistance Program stating “the victim witness assistants, they just play shortstop for the DA and the lawyers to keep you controlled. The assistants are there to appease, failed to respond to numerous phone calls, the assistance program office staff behaved with rudeness, and are a complete waste of taxpayer funds. Dispensing justice took second position to obtaining a conviction, any conviction.”
“In the courtroom, multiple cameras had captured images of Brown. Brown even confessed to the crime, but the assistant DA did not pursue the maximum sentence.
In my opinion, the judge, Carolyn Ellsworth, was more concerned with appeasing criminals. Her sentencing and theory for sentencing were absurd.
Ellsworth had empathy and concern for the criminals, not the victims. She gave ‘slap-on-the-wrist’ sentences, completely ignoring the victims and the victims’ impact statement.”
“The justice system’s entire process made my family and me feel victimized again.”
“The restitution process calculated my loss at between $9,200 and $9,700. Insurance covered $877. The victim assistant told me they were going to ask for $8,700, but I was awarded only $4,200.”
“Between eight and 14 hours after his release from jail, repeat-offender Brown was seen around a drug house and the neighborhood I live in. Twenty-four hours later, Brown was sighted outside a grocery store panhandling for money. I feel there is a total possibility that we can be a victim again, as he was spotted two to three blocks from my home when the judge ordered a restraining order against Brown for my work, home and neighborhood.”
“There should be enhanced sentencing across the board, with minimum sentencing that a judge cannot remove or permit a plea out of, including juvenile offenders. The victims should be an active part of the plea process, unless it is not comfortable for the victim, then the case should be tried.”
As a Clark County senior, I will convey my personal and parallel experiences with this same justice system as the recent victim in a criminal carjacking at gun point outside of their home.
Suffice it to say, it is long past time that any gross misdemeanors and above should automatically go to trial, without possibility of plea bargain deals. If these crimes are against a senior by a juvenile 16 and above, the accused receives automatic treatment as an adult.
Brown was arrested for burglary home invasion, robbery and auto theft. These charges were reduced to felony auto theft.
Judge Ellsworth sentenced him to three years’ probation and credited him with eight months’ time served while he was in jail pending the outcome of the trial.
Newsome stated that Brown was no stranger to the justice system, he was sent to the Mt. Charleston Camp, was on house arrest twice, prior charges of shoplifting, drugs, thrown out of four high schools-sent to prison high school, and part of his probation in this case, he is required to obtain his GED during his three years’ probation.
Newson stated that none of Brown’s prior crimes were brought up at trial. Why?
In this reporter’s opinion, sentences like this by repeat offenders is why we have an increase of crime, these sentences are nothing more than a ‘slap on the wrist’ and criminals have no fear of the justice system. No more plea bargains, anything over a gross misdemeanor upon seniors gets enhanced sentencing, nothing less, to protect our seniors and vulnerable population.
Next Up: Are Juvenile Court Public Defenders Worthy of Academy Awards as Defendant Acting Coaches?