Embattled school board candidate Scott Kelley is no longer the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Corrections. A spokesperson for the department said last week Kelley has been re-assigned and his position is “under review.”
“Scott Kelley is still employed by the Nevada Department of Corrections; however, he is no longer the Public Information Officer,” said William Quenga, deputy director and acting public information officer. “His employment status is under review, and the department cannot comment on current personnel matters.”
The position change came after it was revealed in August Kelley was using fake accounts on social media to troll those criticizing the Washoe County School District. Kelley had long been suspected of setting up fake profiles to bolster his own views with false online identities — known as sockpuppet accounts.
After the original report showing those accounts were used to troll school district critics, screen shots were provided to This Is Reno showing the account with the same name was also posting denigrating comments against those criticizing the Department of Corrections’ handling of COVID-19.
The [email protected] Twitter account earlier this year criticized relatives of inmates, members of the public and the Nevada ACLU.
When the ACLU tweeted a news story about seeking protections for inmates during the global pandemic, the organization said, “police and corrections representatives need to respond to questions about how the state’s jails and prisons are protecting those in their care…”
That tweet was met with a response from the fake Twitter account: “ACLU is failing miserably. Its attempts to bluster, badger, threaten about releasing inmates early are falling on deaf ears at least in Nevada.”
Notified this week of this tweet likely coming from the department’s then-spokesperson Kelley, ACLU spokesperson Wesley Juhl had this to say:
“We’re not afraid of people exercising their First Amendment right to criticize us. That being said, this doesn’t help the department to establish trust or credibility. It’s disturbing that an NDOC employee would engage in such an unprofessional manner and publish these kinds of insults about the individuals in their care.”
The account was even more pointed to other Twitter users.
“If you want to save inmate lives have them stay in prison where they are cut off from the outside world which is swimming in the stank of coronavirus…” the account responded to somebody criticizing NDOC’s COVID-19 handling.
In other tweets, the account called prison inmates dirtbags.
“I hate that Twitter provides people like you a platform to espouse hate and spread lies and disparage corrections who work so hard in tough conditions to supervise dirtbag felons whom you obviously have a soft spot for. Distributing [sic]. Sad, you are…” the account posted.
Another comment was directed to the relative of an inmate, saying the inmate’s death was “a good thing.”
“Since your baby brother is a convicted felon, aka dirt bag, his dying is a good thing,” he wrote. “So I agree, the staff at NDOC at the time of his death deserve a hero’s award.”
Kelley did not deny using the fake Facebook accounts, which were deleted after This Is Reno asked about them. The [email protected] Twitter account, however, remained active until a few weeks ago.
Kelley did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but his attorney, as revealed in court documents, admitted the accounts were his and were allegedly used for online shipping.
“Anything written or printed by Scott Kelley on his personal time or on his personal social media accounts do not reflect the views of the Nevada Department of Corrections,” Quenga said when asked about the comments posted Twitter.
Kelley still running for school board
Kelley quickly resigned from the school board after This Is Reno’s report was covered in local and national news. Numerous people demanded his resignation from the board and a petition was swiftly launched calling on him to resign.
He did not withdraw from the race, however, to defend his incumbency as a school board candidate. He’s facing long-time school district critic, and retired Reno Police Sergeant Jeff Church.
Church said Kelley’s fake accounts are a play on his name Jeffrey David Church. Church’s attorney sent Kelley a cease-and-desist letter mid-September.
“My client’s name is Jeffrey David Church, with the same unusual spelling of Jeffrey versus Jeffery,” they wrote. “We find this a cause of concern and … we ask for an apology and retraction so that the public knows that the account is in no way affiliated with my client.”
Public records at the time of Kelley’s resignation show that school board trustees were concerned about Kelley’s behavior.
Text messages between Trustees Angela Taylor and Malena Raymond — who asked Kelley to resign — show them sharing a screen grab of a board policy on how to deal with an “offending board member.” They can censure the trustee, but they can’t remove them from the board.
Records also show Kelley had forewarned the school district about the pending This Is Reno story.
“Trustee Kelley did alert both myself and President Raymond that this may be coming out in the next couple of days,” Superintendent Kristen McNeill wrote. “It is a domestic issue and as we know Trustee Kelley is going through divorce proceedings. I will see if we need to make a district statement.”
WCSD’s chief communications officer Irene Payne called This Is Reno’s story a “pretty nasty report.”
The district, within hours of the story being published, said it would not comment, but Raymond and Taylor the next day called for his resignation.
“His actions clearly lack integrity and call into question his trustworthiness,” Raymond said. “In my professional experience working for a domestic violence organization, I find some of his behaviors worrisome and inappropriate for someone entrusted with decisions that impact the well-being of the students and staff of the Washoe County School District.”
Trustee Andrew Caudill said he would welcome Kelley back to the board if re-elected.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.