U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Devices illegally seized in investigation of reporter’s murder, Review-Journal argues

Incident Details

SCREENSHOT

A portion of the motion filed on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal seeking to protect the newsgathering materials contained on multiple devices seized from slain reporter Jeff German’s home in September 2022.

— SCREENSHOT
November 15, 2022 - Update

Judges side with Review-Journal in series of rulings on seizure of slain reporter’s devices

In a series of decisions in mid-November, judges in Nevada sided with the Las Vegas Review-Journal as the newspaper fought the seizure and search of devices belonging to slain investigative reporter Jeff German.

In September, authorities seized a phone, laptop, hard drive and three computers from the home of German, who was found stabbed to death on Sept. 2. The Review-Journal immediately filed requests to bar authorities from searching the devices, arguing they were protected under reporter’s privilege. District Judge Susan Johnson granted that request on Oct. 11.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department filed an appeal of the preliminary injunction with the state supreme court a week later.

On Oct. 19, the newspaper filed a motion for an emergency temporary restraining order to prevent the search of German’s car in case it stored electronic data related to his reporting. Johnson ultimately denied the newspaper’s motion, stating that she did not have jurisdiction given Metro’s pending appeal, the Review-Journal reported.

On Nov. 14, the Supreme Court temporarily granted the newspaper’s motion for an injunction barring the search of German’s electronic devices, but has yet to fully rule on Metro’s appeal. The court also determined that Johnson does have jurisdiction to rule on the motion for an emergency order regarding the car search; Johnson has yet to issue her decision.

The following day, District Judge Michelle Leavitt granted the Review-Journal’s motion for the release of all search warrants executed as part of the police investigation into German’s murder. While a justice of the peace had ordered the release of the search warrants during a hearing in October, the only warrant provided to the outlet was heavily redacted and did not pertain to the searches at German’s home.

According to the Review-Journal, Chief Deputy District Attorney Pamela Weckerly said during the Nov. 15 hearing that she believes at least four search warrants were executed. Leavitt ordered not only that all warrants be released, but that police include a copy of the first search warrant with fewer redactions.

October 19, 2022 - Update

Injunction to be heard by Nevada Supreme Court following police department appeal

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department appealed the court’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction barring the search of devices seized from the home of slain journalist Jeff German.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the LVMPD filed an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court on Oct. 19, 2022. During the hearing that same day, District Judge Susan Johnson said that she would stop hearings in her court until the state Supreme Court returns its ruling. The preliminary injunction will remain in place until the decision is handed down.

The Review-Journal reported it also filed a motion that day for an emergency temporary restraining order that would prevent law enforcement from searching through German’s car in the case it stored electronic data related to his newsgathering.

October 11, 2022 - Update

Judge grants injunction barring searching slain reporter’s devices until agreement reached

A Nevada district judge granted the Las Vegas Review-Journal a preliminary injunction on Oct. 11, 2022, barring authorities from searching the personal electronic devices of slain reporter Jeff German.

The Review-Journal reported that during the hearing Judge Susan Johnson said the temporary restraining order granted by a different judge the week before was too broad, and ordered the Las Vegas police to specify what devices were seized from German’s home.

According to the Associated Press, the injunction will last until all parties reach an agreement on how the records will be reviewed.

“This is a preliminary injunction — I’m envisioning that we’re all going to be dealing with this quite a bit,” Johnson said. “We all want to get it right.”

Johnson said she was inclined toward allowing two “trusted Metro officers that are higher-ups” to search the devices under the supervision of a judge from the Reno area, according to the AP. The Review-Journal has staunchly opposed allowing anyone from the police department, district attorney’s office or public defender’s office to participate in the review.

“Allowing Metro officers to review materials that include confidential sources within the department could have devastating consequences for those confidential sources, for the Review-Journal and for freedom of the press,” said Ben Lipman, the newspaper’s chief legal officer, in a statement to the outlet. “But, we remain hopeful the other parties and the court will agree to an acceptable compromise so the Review-Journal is not forced to stand by its absolute privilege.”

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19.

October 5, 2022 - Update

Judge grants Review-Journal emergency protective order against searching slain reporter’s devices

A Nevada district judge granted the Las Vegas Review-Journal a temporary restraining order that immediately bars authorities from searching the personal electronic devices of slain reporter Jeff German.

The Review-Journal reported it had filed a request for an emergency order on Oct. 4, 2022, after officials said they sought to search the devices that same day if an agreement was not reached.

Glenn Cook, the Executive Editor for the Review-Journal, said the request was made to protect German’s confidential sources and the information they had provided.

Judge Nadia Krall, who signed the order the following day, prevented officials from searching the devices for the next 15 days. A hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 12.

In a statement to the Review-Journal, Cook said exposing the reporter’s sources could potentially lead to retribution for them as well as damage the outlet’s ability to report.

“We’re grateful that Judge Krall saw the urgency of the situation and the clear threat of irreparable harm to the Review-Journal and Jeff German’s sources,” Cook said.

September 3, 2022

The Las Vegas Review-Journal filed a motion for a protective order on Sept. 26, 2022, arguing that authorities should be barred from searching the electronic devices seized as part of the investigation into the murder of reporter Jeff German.

German, who had covered crime and political corruption in Las Vegas for more than 40 years, was stabbed outside his home on Sept. 2. Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles was arrested on suspicion of murder less than a week later and is being held without bail awaiting trial.

According to court filings reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, both Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson contacted the Review-Journal, alerting the newspaper to the seizure of German’s devices and requesting a waiver to allow authorities to search them.

The Clark County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

In total, officers seized an iPhone, three iMacs, a Macbook and an external hard drive from German’s home, according to the motion. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department told the newspaper in writing on Sept. 16 that the devices had not been searched and would not be until the court issued an order authorizing the review.

Ashley Kissinger, an attorney representing the newspaper, sent a letter to the Metro Police Department, the Clark County public defender representing Telles and the District Attorney’s Office on Sept. 21 listing their concerns and requesting a call to further discuss the issue. Kissinger sent a follow up letter two days later proposing a resolution before resorting to filing a motion for a protective order.

When reached for comment, Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook provided a copy of the motion and declined to comment further.

The letters and the motion filed on the Review-Journal’s behalf on Sept. 26 argue that German’s contacts, communications and work product are protected from seizure and review under Nevada’s shield law and the federal Privacy Protection Act.

“The Review-Journal appreciates the efforts of law enforcement to investigate the murder of Mr. German, and of all those seeking to ensure that justice is done for this horrific crime,” the motion states. “However, the newspaper has serious and urgent concerns about the protection of confidential sources and other unpublished journalistic work product contained in the Seized Devices.”

The motion further requests that the court allow the Review-Journal to review the devices, identify the newsgathering materials contained on them and determine whether it wishes to waive its privilege concerning any of the files.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the Tracker, expressed its support for the newspaper.

“A murder investigation should not be used as a pretext to access unreported source material that should be protected by both the First Amendment and Nevada’s shield law,” CPJ U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen said in a statement. “If law enforcement were to gain access to decades of Jeff German’s unpublished work, including sensitive source material, it would make an already difficult situation even worse.”

According to the court filing, a hearing on the motion is scheduled for Sept. 28.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]