Sunday, March 26, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge declines newspaper’s request for sanctions against police in reporter’s murder probe

The Las Vegas Review-Journal argued unsuccessfully that federal law bars police from looking at a journalist's news-gathering material.

LAS VEGAS (CN) — A state court judge handed the Las Vegas Review-Journal a setback Wednesday in its quest for sanctions against Las Vegas Metro Police Department in a case involving murdered reporter Jeff German’s computers and cellphone.

Review-Journal attorneys asked Clark County District Judge Michelle Leavitt to sanction Metro for not informing the newspaper that detectives had searched German’s data.

German, 69, a longtime investigative reporter, was found stabbed to death in the front yard of his home on Sept. 3, 2022. Before his death, German was writing investigative stories regarding Robert Telles, 45, a former Clark County public administrator. The stories delved into accusations of wrongdoing and a toxic work environment created by Telles. Telles also had an inappropriate relationship with a staffer, according to German.

Metro Police arrested Telles on Sept. 7 and charged with German’s murder. He awaits trial.

“I’m inclined to deny the motion for sanctions because it would affect the criminal case adversely, and I don’t think that would be appropriate,” Leavitt said during proceedings Wednesday.

The Review-Journal argues allowing Metro to view material on German’s six devices that were confiscated would jeopardize confidential sources and inhibit future investigative reporting.

The U.S. Congress passed the Privacy Protection Act in the 1980s, the newspaper's attorney Ashley Kissinger told Leavitt.

“That’s a federal statue that gives very clear, short language, saying that no person in government at any level can search or seize news-gathering material of a journalist,” Kissinger said. “That federal statue was violated. It was violated the moment that the six devices were seized by Metro.”

Kissinger continued: “It’s critical to a well-functioning democracy. It’s a crucial aspect of what makes the press free and independent in the United States, and it’s what sets us apart from the rest of the world.”

Metro attorney Matthew Christian told Leavitt that investigators did a preliminary search of German’s cellphone the day he was killed, but detectives building a case against Telles have not looked at his data.

An email by Christian stating investigators had not looked at the cellphone led to the Review-Journal to ask for sanctions. Kissinger blasted Christian for the email, but Leavitt wouldn't budge.

“I don’t think you misrepresented. I don’t think there was any intentional misrepresentation. That’s not what it appears to me,” Leavitt said, speaking of Christian.

“Of course I would not misrepresent anything. Why would I?” said Christian.

Metro attorneys have said previously that given German was the victim and the newsgathering material is part of a criminal case, there is no way to conduct a complete investigation without looking at German’s own personal electronic devices.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.