A grand jury was ordered in Carson City on Tuesday to look into allegations of misconduct by several city officials.
The order culminates a petition drive by resident Ron Weddell for what he says was a deliberate refusal to prosecute two brothers for felony crimes.
District Judges Michael Griffin and Bill Maddox signed the order and told Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover to send out requests to "50 qualified persons to serve as prospective grand jurors."
From that group, Glover is seeking at least 36 volunteers. Grand jury duty is not mandatory. If the response falls short of 36, he will send out subsequent batches of 50 requests to eligible residents.
Once 36 people are determined to be qualified volunteers, the sheriff will summon them and the district judges will trade off selecting names - starting with Griffin - until 17 people are impaneled and 12 are designated as alternates.
Weddell's petition drive began in February and returned to the court at the end of August. As required by Nevada law, the petition had to be filed with signatures from at least 25 percent - or 4,209 - of registered Carson City voters who voted in the 1998 general election. Glover found Weddell's petition had legitimate signatures from 4,434 voters.
In Nevada grand juries can be used to examine issues from county finances and government, to legislation and criminal indictments. Because the last general grand jury in Carson City finished in June 1998, the judges have said the Weddell grand jury will be limited to "the allegations contained in the petition filed in this case."
The allegations include misconduct charges against:
- District Attorney Noel Waters, accused of removing a criminal complaint from a courtroom
- Chief Deputy District Attorney Anne Langer, accused of coaching witnesses
- Justice of the Peace Robey Willis, also accused of removing the complaint from the courtroom
- Deputy sheriffs Steve Johnson, Ken Sandage, Bill Callahan, Fred Schoenfeldt and Rod King, accused of obstructing prosecution of the case
Brothers James and John Bustamonte are also named in allegations of drug trafficking, kidnapping and assault.
The petition stems from an October 1997 incident in which Weddell, attempting a citizen's arrest, fired four shots at a fleeing James Bustamonte. He claims that the arrest effort was made in response to an attempt by Bustamonte and his brother to run down an employee of Weddell's at his Arrowhead Drive construction yard.
Weddell believes the Bustamontes were looking for his daughter, Kellie Weddell, to coerce her into selling methamphetamine and giving them the money.
Weddell was arrested after the incident and charged with assault and firearms offenses. He faced a preliminary hearing in Judge Robey Willis' justice courtroom and was bound over to face the charges in district court.
Then-district judge Michael Fondi dismissed the case, saying that under Nevada law the use of force in attempting a citizen's arrest is permitted. That decision is currently under review in an appeal filed by Waters to the state Supreme Court.
In a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Weddell, Willis was dismissed from culpability in the case. He said Tuesday he welcomes the opportunity to defend himself in the grand jury forum.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'll say the same thing I've said at the federal court level."
Weddell, who spent $34,000 on the petition effort, said he expected the grand jury to be approved, but said he regrets that he had to take such drastic steps.
"I take no solace at all in pointing out how bad some of these officials are," he said. "They should have just done their jobs in the first place."
Also in the papers filed Tuesday was praise for Glover's handling of the petition. "The Carson City Clerk and staff are to be commended for the promptness with which they verified the signatures in this petition," the judges wrote.