News Column

Panic Buttons Installed at Nevada Legislature

Feb. 13, 2013

David McGrath Schwartz, Las Vegas Sun

Panic buttons have been installed on some desks at the Nevada Legislature and the number of police officers patrolling the third floor of the building have doubled to monitor Assemblyman Steven Brooks, Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs wrote in a letter Tuesday to ease concerns about safety.

Brooks, who in the past month has been arrested twice and detained by police for a psychiatric evaluation, flew to Reno on Monday night, despite having been banned from the building by the chairman of a committee charged with investigating whether he is fit for office.

Brooks, 40, of North Las Vegas, did not try to enter the Legislature on Tuesday, Combs said.

"We do not believe he came to Carson City last night," he said.

Brooks was arrested on Sunday morning on charges of domestic battery and obstructing an officer.

Lawmakers have switched from trying to downplay the Brooks situation as a "minor distraction" before the legislative session began Feb. 4 to now trying to remove Brooks from the building entirely.

But their slow action may have prompted an anonymous complaint to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration on Feb. 1, prior to the start of the session.

The complaint, which is anonymous, said, "There is an unstable and dangerous employee that has been allowed to remain at this building despite many of our colleague's concerns regarding his frightening behavior, history of violence, known threats against other employees, arrests, psychiatric commitments, and multiple recent instances of brandishing deadly weapons."

The complaint did not name Brooks specifically. But in his response to the complaint, Combs said he assumed the assemblyman was the person described.

Combs detailed the seriousness with which lawmakers regarded the situation in his response to OSHA.

Combs wrote that the Legislature and Nevada Assembly "have been taking actions to ensure the safety of everyone in the Legislative Building."

Brooks is described as "very cooperative and cordial with the Legislative Police and clearly understands that some people ... may have concerns regarding the reports of his recent behavior."

Brooks voluntarily agreed to having a legislative police officer accompany him when he is present in the Legislative Building and "did not object" when his keycard to the building was deactivated.

Combs wrote that Brooks allowed legislative police to take "whatever precautionary measures they requested to ensure that he is not armed when he enters the building."

Police presence on the third floor, where Brooks has his office, has doubled. Police presence in the Assembly Chambers has also increased.

Besides the 29 legislative police, Combs said the Department of Public Safety and Carson City Sheriff have offered to provide immediate backup.

Combs also said "panic alarm buttons" were installed when requested or when he deemed it appropriate.

Combs, in his response, noted that Brooks is not an employee of the Legislature, and thus the circumstances surrounding removing him from the workplace are unusual.

Brooks unexpectedly announced on the floor of the Assembly last week that he would take a three week leave of absence. He has been embroiled in a controversy since his arrest Jan. 19 for threatening a public official, fellow North Las Vegas Democratic Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick.

Brooks was banned from the Legislature and placed on indefinite, paid leave, Assembly Majority Leader William Horne said after the meeting of a select committee charged to determine whether Brooks is fit to serve.

An independent counsel will gather information about Brooks and bring a recommendation to the committee, "It is time that we get to the bottom of this so we can move on and do what we're tasked to do here," Horne said. "The sooner we get done the better."

The committee will make a recommendation on whether to expel Brooks permanently to the full Assembly after its hearings. The constitution allows lawmakers to expel a member with a two-thirds vote.



Source: (c)2013 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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