The video below is a highly disturbing scene from the courtroom of Clark County Hearings Master Patricia Doninger (right) in a family court case. The video shows Monica Contreras, 28, who complains that she was assaulted by a marshal in the room next to the courtroom under a pretext of a spontaneous drug search. Doninger entirely ignores her and does nothing as the marshals arrest her on the clearly abusive charge of “making false allegations about a police officer.” Doninger is shown playing with Contreras’ daughter. Internal Affairs is reportedly investigating a host of such allegations in the courthouse. Contreras is now suing the officer Ron Fox, a second officer, James Kenyon, and Doninger in a civil rights action. She has also named Clark County, Nevada, as a defendant.
Contreras was called into a room where she says that the officer ordered her to lift her shirt and groped her. When she demanded a female officer, both the marshal and the judge ignored her.
She later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge. This required some prosecutor to look at the evidence and, rather than act to stop this abuse of the system, alter the charges to shed to overtly unsupportable false information charge. I am not sure if she had counsel, but the role of the prosecution needs also to be examined. There appears no independent judgment or action from the prosecutor in participating in this sham. Then there is the absence of a criminal charge against Fox if in fact this “search” was a ruse for groping this woman. Prosecutors seemed to have no problem with the criminal charges against Contreras but there is no record of any charge against Fox.
Later, Fox was fired after an investigation. In a decision upholding the termination, Assistant County Manager Ed Finger found “Fox, and to some degree Kenyon, simply intimidated and bullied the complainant in a way that is shocking and almost incomprehensible, using the complainant’s own freedom and custody of her three-year-old child as threats.” It is not clear if Kenyon was also fired.
The Internal Affairs investigation reportedly confirmed her account from the room and there is no need for confirmation of what occurred before Doninger. I cannot imagine keeping Doninger on the bench after such a complete failure to protect individuals in her courtroom or perform even a modicum of the responsibilities of a judge. As for the officers, these allegations, if true, would constitute crimes.
What is astonishing is that Doninger is a “domestic violence commissioner” and has worked as a domestic violence commissioner since late 1998. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Miami and her J.D. from Southwestern University School of Law. There is no evidence of such experience or even concern over this victim’s pleas on the videotape. As the presiding judicial officer in this court, she must bear the ultimate responsibility for the abuse.
The question is whether that accountability can take the form of civil liability over what could be viewed as a discretionary act on her part in allowing the arrest to occur. She will have some strong legal arguments. However, that does not relieve her of responsibility. There remains the question of her suitability to continue on the bench.