Monday, May 3 2010 3:36 PM EDT2010-05-03 20:36:19 GMT
A former taxi officer who blew the whistle on the Nevada Taxicab Authority faces criminal charges. The Taxicab Authority put together the case against Scott Lewis after he tipped off the I-Team that Authority administrator Gordon Walker was using his employees as his personal security force. I-Team Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Photojournalist Matt Adams have the details.More>>
Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Photojournalist Matt Adams
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I-Team Reporter George Knapp and Photojournalist Matt Adams
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LAS VEGAS -- A former state taxi authority officer who blew the whistle on alleged wrongdoing within the agency claimed an important victory in court this week.
The 8 News Now I-Team has chronicled the story of airport control officer Scott Lewis and his attempts to be reinstated. Lewis says he was fired because he tried to enforce the law against taxi companies. But that was just the beginning of his troubles.
Should the head of a state agency have the authority to order his employees to perform services at or around the boss's home? That's what the head of the Nevada Taxicab Authority did when he ordered taxi officers to conduct patrols past his house, hour by hour, night after night.
State officials, including the governor, say they're just fine with that. But when former taxi cop Scott Lewis showed up to videotape the nightly patrols, he got arrested. On Monday, a local judge heard the evidence, or lack thereof.
"I'm ecstatic. I'm very pleased," said Lewis. He has been fighting against what he describes as an out of control state agency for two years. He was in court Monday at the Regional Justice Center because his former boss, taxi authority administrator Gordon Walker, sought a protective order, alleging that Lewis had vandalized Walker's car and threatened him.
Lewis was arrested in April after he videotaped patrols by taxi police near Walker's house. As the I-Team also documented, Walker ordered the patrols at the beginning of April after his wife received a letter from someone purporting to be Walker's mistress. The mistress wanted Mrs. Walker to know about her husband's affairs. According to an arrest warrant prepared by Walker's senior investigators, Lewis was suspected of writing the letter because, according to Mr. and Mrs. Walker, they have no other enemies.
Eight months prior to the letter, someone slashed the tires on Walker's state issued vehicle. The arrest warrant alleges it must have been Scott Lewis, though the taxi authority and Metro say there is no evidence linking it to any suspect.
George Knapp: "You didn't write the letters, did you?"
Scott Lewis: "No."
George Knapp: "You didn't slash the tires?"
Scott Lewis: "No."
George Knapp: "Did you ever call Gordon Walker's house, or go to his house?"
Scott Lewis: "No."
Walker not only ordered taxi officers to patrol his house in response to the mistress letter, he then had his senior staff prepare the arrest warrant once he learned Lewis had been in his neighborhood.
In court, Walker, who was represented by the Attorney General's office, argued that he needed protection.
"Mr. Lewis was found near my home on April 17th. Since he lives nine miles away form me, I can't imagine why he was there and I was concerned about his intent. I kind of thought Mr. Lewis may be tied to the letters and the slashing of the tires," Walker said.
Defense attorney Ron Colquitt argued that Lewis and his friend had every right to be out there.
"Mr. McNally and my client are driving through public roadways, not in a confined neighborhood, and they are documenting the use of state employees to monitor this man's house. These are taxi authority police officers that are in a private residence once an hour, on the hour," said Colquitt.
Judge Joe Sciscento made quick work of Walker's allegations. He ruled there is no proof linking Lewis to the tires or the letters and he denied a protective order on constitutional grounds.
"Although it may be objectionable to your client to have Mr. Lewis photographing people coming down the street, it is still his right to do so, as it would be his right to picket in front of the house," said Sciscento.
"That the first time a judge, in a judicial matter, has seen through the smoke screen of what the taxi authority has done to me. And he wasn't taking it, wasn't hearing it at all," said Lewis.
Although Lewis won this round, he still faces charges filed by Walker accusing him of stalking and harassment. The same judge will hear the same evidence in July.
But what of the larger issue? Is it okay for Walker to use his taxi cops to patrol his house, on orders, instead of keeping an eye on taxis? The I-Team asked the head of the State of Nevada Business and Industry, Diane Cornwall. In an email, Cornwall said she had no problem with Walker using state resources within his domain since he felt threatened.
Her boss Governor Jim Gibbons told the I-Team he'd heard there were threats on Walker's life and that he trusts Cornwall to deal with this issue.
If using state cops for private security is okay, Scott Lewis wonders if Cornwall could order state janitors to clean her house.
"We don't care what is going on in Gordon Walker's personal life as much as how he is using the agents in his operation for his personal matters," Lewis said.
In a bit of unexpected irony, another taxi cop who is a friend of Scott Lewis was notified that he is the target of an investigation by the Nevada Taxicab Authority because he used a state vehicle to go to lunch across the street from his workplace. The authority says this is a misuse of state resources, unlike the patrols past Gordon Walker's house.
When the Nevada Taxicab Authority filed the charges against Lewis, one side benefit is that it derailed his fight to be reinstated. That process can't resume until this one is resolved.