CARSON CITY – A state panel Wednesday absolved Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro of two campaign-related ethics complaints, dismissing them for lack of evidence of a violation and because the sheriff thought he was acting in accordance with an earlier board ruling in a similar case.
A third complaint against the sheriff is still pending before the Commission on Ethics, but the “three-strikes” rule that could have prompted legal action seeking his removal from office now no longer appears a threat to him. Antinoro has been sheriff since 2011, winning re-election in 2014 and 2018 as well as beating back a 2017 recall attempt.
The ethics complaints are among other accusations of misconduct leveled at the long-time sheriff. Prompted in part by the Storey County saga, the state earlier this year passed a law making it easier to remove government officers for malfeasance or unlawful employment practices by giving the state Equal Rights Commission power to recommend their removal.
The ethics complaints against Antinoro were resolved in a stipulated agreement between him and the board. Antinoro did not appear at the hearing. The two men who filed the complaints objected to the board’s decision, urging members instead to hold full hearings on each of the complaints.
The board’s vote was unanimous, with three of eight members not voting because they investigated the complaints.
“My client did not violate any of the ethics laws,” Antinoro’s attorney, Katherine Parks, said after the board’s vote. “That was what was found by virtue of this agreement. So victory or no victory, this is a fair and reasonable ending to this particular complaint.”
Under the agreement, the board dismissed a May 2018 complaint that Antinoro inappropriately appeared in billboards and other re-election campaign materials wearing his uniform and badge. Such items are considered government property under state ethics law and their use in campaign-related activities and materials is barred under state ethics laws.
A July 2018 complaint, filed by his opponent in that year’s election for sheriff, similarly said Antinoro violated ethics law by appearing in uniform at three campaign debates, riding in a uniform in Virginia City’s Memorial Day parade, and politicking on a weekly radio show he hosted as sheriff.
The board found that Antinoro’s participation in the radio show, which was paid for out of campaign funds, “was not contrary to the faithful discharge of his public duties” and “did not result in an unwarranted advantage.”
As to use of uniform and badge in campaigning, the board found Antinoro “relied in good faith” on a 2016 commission ruling that dismissed similar alleged ethics law violations against the Elko County sheriff.
The commission, however, ruled otherwise in earlier similar cases dating to 1998 and 2014. It acknowledged a need to clarify its position and under the agreement will notify the state Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association that the “use of uniforms, badges and other physical accouterments of office by elected sheriffs during their campaigns for re-election creates an appearance of impropriety” and violates ethics law.
The people who filed the complaints, Kris Thompson and Mike Cullen, said they were disappointed by the board’s action. Cullen, a Carson City police sergeant, ran against Antinoro for Sheriff in 2018 and purposely avoided campaigning in uniform due to ethics rules. He also cited Storey County’s own policy against politicking while in uniform.
“The county has their own policy regarding all this, And he knowingly and willingly violated it to win the election,” Cullen said. “It’s as simple as that. It’s not rocket science here.”
Thompson, who also filed the still-pending complaint against the sheriff, said he would “look forward to our day in front of the same commission.”
Rick Hsu, a former commission member and chairman who represented both Cullen and Thompson, said the commission “should have weighed the evidence for purposes of determining whether it was a willful violation” rather than sign off on an agreement that he said failed to resolve the board’s earlier conflicting positions.