Former state water official files federal civil rights lawsuit against Las Vegas police, DA

Former state water official files federal civil rights lawsuit against Las Vegas police, DA
Robert Coache poses outside the Supreme Court of Nevada Court of Appeals in downtown Las Vegas, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. Richard Brian @vegasphotograph

LAS VEGAS — Robert Coache has applied to receive an official exoneration by the State of Nevada after serving time in prison for crimes the Nevada Supreme Court later dismissed for lack of evidence. Whether he is granted that status, however, remains to be seen. 

Coache, who spent 16 months in prison, could be eligible for $50,000 a year for each year served, under a 2019 law passed by the Nevada legislature. 

It’s a drop in the bucket compared with the $5 million in damages he is now seeking in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) and the Clark County District Attorney’s Office.

Coache faced 49 charges, “spent over sixteen months in prison and was on parole for conspiracy to commit extortion by public officer or employee, extortion by public officer or employee, conspiracy to commit asking or receiving bribe by public officer, asking, or receiving bribe by public officer, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and forty-four counts of money laundering,” his attorneys said.

The Nevada Supreme Court in 2019 dismissed the 49 charges against him citing lack of evidence.

Coache was alleged to have profited in a quid-pro-quo scheme involving a property purchase with a business partner who also had a water rights sale in the works. Coache was at the time a deputy state engineer in the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Detectives and prosecutors claimed he profited from a land sale that was associated with a water rights deal they said Coache approved. Deputy state engineers do not approve water right sales or approve permits, despite what prosecutors alleged.

Coache’s lawsuit, filed two weeks ago, names LVMPD Detectives Colin Haynes and Nathan Chio, Clark County, Clark County Deputy District Attorney Marc DiGiacomo, and Deputy District Attorney Sarah Overly.

“Coache worked in the State Engineer’s Las Vegas office [and] had nothing to do with the granting of [the permit in question], and in fact was unaware at the time of [applicant John] Lonetti’s application being granted by the State Engineer. No one at the State Engineer’s office discussed Lonetti’s application with Coache,” his attorneys, Ralph Schwartz and Edwin Brown wrote in the lawsuit. “Defendant DiGiacomo knew that Coache was never the State Engineer, did not sign the Lonetti water permit involved in this case, nor [did he] have anything to do with granting the permit.”

The evidence presented at trial showed that Coache did not even know about the Lonetti permit, the attorneys argued. 

“No evidence linked the innocent Coache to the alleged crimes in any way,” they added. “On November 14, 2018, during oral arguments held before the Nevada Supreme Court, when questioned, Defendant DiGiacomo admitted that he did not have any evidence that Coache committed any of the crimes for which he was unlawfully convicted.”

Coache’s attorneys said the lack of evidence and years spent going after him — including sending a SWAT team to his house—amount to conspiracy, malicious prosecution and civil rights violations by Clark County district attorneys and Las Vegas police.

“The magnitude of such an admission by Defendant DiGiacomo, a high-ranking Special Deputy District Attorney, before the Nevada Supreme Court Justices, that he pursued charges, prosecution, and the incarceration of Coache knowing he had no evidence of guilt cannot be understated.”

Coache’s case put him on the front page of newspapers and news websites for years, but once his case was tossed in 2019 the Nevada Supreme Court, the news media went mum. 

Coache last year told his story to This Is Reno.

The law passed by the state legislature in 2019 provides compensation to victims of wrongful incarceration. Kathy Woods was the first person exonerated under the law. She received $2.85 million for wrongful prosecution by the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office. DNA evidence exonerated her in 2013 for the 1976 murder of Michelle Mitchell.

DeMarlo Barry last year was awarded $2.25 million for the more than 22-year prison term he served for a crime he did not commit. Coache said one other person has also applied for state exoneration. 

Nevada Attorney General Attorney Communications Director John Sadler did not respond to where Coache is in the line of potential exonerees. 

“At this time, we do not have information on Robert Coache’s status,” he said.

An 11-page response to Coache by Deputy Attorney General Heather Proctor in May said, in part, “the October 1, 2019 Order Vacating Judgment of Conviction and December 2, 2020 Order Granting Ex Parte Request to Formally Vacate Charging Documents speak for themselves.”

Read Coache’s federal complaint below.