News Feature | November 25, 2015

Las Vegas Utility Manager Who Poisoned Kids Has Been Demoted

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

poison.reg

The Nevada agency that oversees drinking water facilities has completed its investigation of a utility manager who poisoned children’s water, and it now appears the man will no longer oversee drinking water for the city.

Jerome Breland had been serving as the interim utilities manager for North Las Vegas, a position that put him in charge of water and sewer services for the city. He was reassigned four months ago when details of his past came to light, specifically a 15-year-old conviction that, at the time, landed Breland with six months on house arrest and three years’ probation.

A complaint to environmental authorities had brought the 15-year-old conviction back on the radar. Breland was convicted of  "performance of an act of neglect of duty in willful or wanton disregard for safety of persons or property” after he placed Ipecac, a drug that induces vomiting, in the water bottle of kids on his son’s football team, landing eight children in the hospital.

When the conviction came to light, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection decided to investigate, and the utility assigned Breland to a new position.

In a decision released this month, the state investigation “concluded that since Breland took responsibility for his indiscretion and had been an upstanding employee and citizen ever since, no further punishment was warranted beyond the city's decision to remove him from the water department four months ago,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Still, the division found fault with Breland’s failure to disclose his prior conviction. The news report explained: “The state form for water operator certification includes a yes or no box asking if the applicant has ever violated the Nevada Administrative Code. Breland marked no, even though the code states a water operator's license can be revoked if the operator ‘has demonstrated disregard for the health and safety of the public.’”

Breland will not resume his former job. “North Las Vegas officials made it clear that Breland has been permanently reassigned as an electronics technician at the city's water reclamation facility,” the report said.

Director of Utilities Randy DeVaul weighed in on the state’s conclusions. "Although the state concluded the city's actions four months ago were the equivalent to or exceeded any discipline the state would have issued, the reassignment of this individual will remain permanent, and we are gratified [the state] confirmed we took the appropriate action," he said, per the Journal-Review.  

Lisa Rasmussen, who represents Breland, also weighed in: "I think the actions of everyone including my client were appropriate all the way around," she said, per the report. "I would just emphasize that he was reacting to a bully who was causing physical violence to his son, and it was one act that probably lacked judgement — but it was a number of years ago."

According to a previous Review-Journal article, a complaint to the utility resulted in Breland’s reassignment this year. The complaint said: “People convicted of child molestation should not run day cares — people convicted of theft should not work at banks — people convicted of poisoning defenseless children's water supply should not work for a water department or be in charge of water quality with access to chemicals that could be used to injure or do worse.”

As for question of why Breland would decide to harm children, Complex gave this account of his crime:

Sick of his son being bullied by a 12-year-old teammate, Jerome Breland did what any parent would do — he poisoned him. Breland did so by adding ipecac to a water bottle and then encouraged his son to give it to the troublesome colleague at practice. At first the plan was a rousing success, as the dopey kid naively drank from the bottle without even beginning to suspect somebody's father had poisoned it. But not long after, other kids on the team began drinking from the same bottle. It reads like a twist in a sitcom but was, in actuality, a crime turning more serious every time the drink switched hands. At that point practice had to be canceled, because it's hard to keep going when eight of your players are being frantically rushed to the hospital. It didn't take long to figure out what Breland had done because obviously the guy's not exactly a criminal mastermind. His sentence was six months house arrest and a year of community service.

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Image credit: "POISON," mknobil © 2006, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/