The Sparks Police Department and Sparks city officials have yet to release findings and have been reticent to discuss investigations into the alleged behavior of Sparks Police officer George Forbush. Earlier this year, a Twitter account in his name and his photo made threatening statements directed at Black Lives Matter movement participants.
An account in Forbush’s name publicly supported police brutality, including police officers forcing a Portland, Oregon, protester’s face into tear gas. On July 28, the account replied to a photo of a Portland mother who had been shot at close range in the forehead with a technically less-than-lethal projectile, writing, “Cheers to the marksman that turned her into a cyclops.”
The account tweeted in June that while he owns six AR-15s, he had always thought AR-15 pistols were pointless but was now “going to build a couple AR pistols just for BLM, Antifa, or active shooters who cross my path and can’t maintain social distancing.”
The account was public but was made private after people in the community began screenshotting and resharing its inflammatory content.
City of Sparks community relations manager Julie Duewel confirmed to This Is Reno that Forbush is still employed by the Sparks Police Department but said there was nothing else upon which she could comment concerning an investigation into his behavior.
The department’s code of conduct prohibits officers or other staff members from behaving in ways that make the department look disreputable. Unbecoming conduct is prohibited for officers both when they’re on and off duty. According to the Transparent Nevada website, Forbush made nearly $180,000 in 2019, with total pay and benefits topping more than $250,000. He works as a bomb technician for the department.
This Is Reno first reported on the Forbush Twitter account in early August. Since then, additional citizens of Sparks have made complaints against Forbush in relation to the social media posts. He was brought up during public comment at Sparks City Council meetings as well as during a public panel with Sparks City Council candidates held by This Is Reno.
Still, Sparks officials remain silent on the matter.
Candidates split on potential solutions
During This Is Reno’s Oct. 6 panel with Sparks City Council candidates Paul Anderson, Donald Abbott and Wendy Stolyarov, the panelists were asked by an attendee to speak about police reform for the Sparks PD and about Forbush specifically.
Stolyarov—who noted her work in the Nevada Legislature’s 2017 session with the ACLU, PLAN and ACTIONN—said while she knows that local police officers are “doing their very best, we are dealing with nationwide issues that have been plaguing” the United States for centuries.
“This issue can be traced back to the very founding of our country—and the fact that people of color have never been treated equally here and still struggle with access to housing and health care and more,” she said. “So, in terms of more concrete reform for the police department, I am probably the most reformist candidate on this panel.”
Stolyarov said she’s an advocate for a citizen oversight board and would hope, if one were formed, it would be used in the review of police killings of civilians. She also said she believes that mental health interventions should not fall to officers.
“Many other cities have, basically, mental health outreach teams that are not tied to their police forces at all,” she said. “While we do have MOST here—the Mobile Outreach Safety Team, which rides along with our police—it is still affiliated with police officers, and a lot of people who are in moments of mental crisis don’t feel safe when they are approached by an officer. So I would like to see an entirely separate service perhaps fathered under Washoe County or under our firefighters even and have it tailored directly to mental health outreach, 24/7…Honestly, we put too much on the plates of our police officers; we ask them to be social workers as well. And the results are suboptimal for our entire community.”
Both Anderson and Abbott began their responses to the question of improvements they’d like to see in Sparks PD by stating they support the department and its officers.
“Day in and day out they’re performing tasks that none of us ever hear about, that they don’t get any glory for, but they’re doing the right thing and helping us,” Anderson said. “Once in a while, unfortunate things take place—and we do hear about those in the news.”
He also echoed Stolyarov’s sentiments concerning the role of police in mental health interventions, saying, “The thing I really believe is that these men and women that have agreed to be in law enforcement are willing to step in the fray when bad things are happening. And a personality type that’s willing and able to do that may not be the same one that is a good social worker. As Wendy said, to call on them to do both is not the right thing.”
However, unlike Stolyarov, Anderson said he believes social workers and police officers should be embedded together.
“I do believe that actually the best approach is adding more clinicians that are riding with our officers, helping in those moments because, in a heated moment, you don’t want a social worker; you need a police officer,” he said. “But, likewise, if there’s that opportunity for de-escalation and helping to solve a mental health issue then, by all means, that’s what we want to have at the forefront.”
Abbott spoke about having gone on many ride-alongs with Sparks police officers and plugged the Regional Citizen Police Academy run by Sparks PD during his comments concerning improvements that might be made to the department. He also said he doesn’t believe the public is aware of improvements he said are already being made.
“We have body cam footage that we’re now releasing in two weeks’ time, compared to what we were at before,” he said, adding, “There’s a lot of good stuff. We’re making positive changes in the city and at the police department, but we don’t always talk about it. We’re not out there posting on Facebook or tweeting about it and raising our hand and showing the world. And we’ve realized that we need to do that. We need to show others what good we are doing for our city and our residents and have those conversations. It’s a challenging time, for sure, in our police department—but there’s some great people…They look after us.”
No agreement on council’s role in the matter
In regard to Forbush specifically, Stolyarov was the only candidate to openly condemn his behavior and the fact that he’s still employed by Sparks PD.
Both Abbott and Anderson noted that the matter is a personnel issue associated with an internal investigation to which they were unable to speak. Both also brought up the Nevada police officers bill of rights as enshrined in Nevada Regulatory Statute chapter 289—with each saying that reform to officers’ rights would need to take place at the state government level.
“It’s not an ideal situation, and I’m going to say that right off the bat—but there’s some things that we need to realize that are involved here,” Anderson said. “No matter how much we may dislike something that someone said, there are some protections that individuals have. You have them in the places where you work, as does the officer with the City of Sparks.”
He added, “Again, I just want to remind people that we need to be careful that—just like you or I would like to have a certain amount of privacy and safety for our family, sometimes we all say and do stupid things, and to feel that your family is now threatened because of that, I don’t believe that’s the answer either. So, I really think we’ve got to be careful on how we proceed. But as it stands right now, there isn’t anything more that we can say because it is a personnel issue that we are not involved with.”
Abbott said the Sparks City Council would not be in a position to weigh in regardless of what department for which a City of Sparks employee worked.
“We don’t get involved in disciplinary actions from either a public works employee to a sewer plant employee to parks and rec or anyone,” he said. “That’s not our role as a council. That would be my role if I wanted to run for state legislature, but we are at a city council forum and not state legislative office. We can disagree and agree on whatever someone has an opinion on, but that’s not my role to get into the internal investigation that’s currently going on at the city.”
In speaking to Forbush’s alleged behavior, Stolyarov brought up her own past actions as a demonstrator.
“As the only person on this call who has attended a protest and can be called a protester, I feel fundamentally unsafe in our city knowing I might call the police and that person might respond, and I know he’s considering running me over or has a gun specifically reserved for protesters—which are things he said on his Twitter account,” Stolyarov said.
“While it is true that the state legislature sets policy for our state as far as the police go, it is the city who employs them and decides who remains employed,” she added. “That is a city manager matter, but it is also incumbent upon city personnel—especially the council—to say what behavior is and is not is acceptable and to lead by example, to have a little bit of conscience and heart when it comes to issues like this. Our police are supposed to serve and protect all of us.
“When we have a police officer making direct threats of violence against people in the community, that is fundamentally unacceptable—and he should not be in that position.”
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.