The Las Vegas Review-Journal is demanding that authorities don’t review a slain reporter’s electronic devices and reporting materials, which were seized by authorities after his death.
Jeff German's cellphone, four computers and external hard drive could be used in the prosecution and defense of German's alleged killer. But they contain confidential sources and unpublished materials that are protected by federal and state law, the newspaper argued.
“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,” an attorney representing the Review-Journal said in a letter sent Thursday to local authorities, which was first reported by the newspaper. “However, the newspaper has serious and urgent concerns about the protection of confidential sources and other unpublished journalistic work product contained in Mr. German’s seized devices.”
Prosecutors say Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles fatally stabbed German outside his home on Sept. 2, which authorities say could be connected to German’s reporting on Telles' time as public administrator. German’s stories included reports of bullying and hostility perpetrated by Telles in the office, as well as an inappropriate relationship with a staffer.
Telles lost the June Democratic primary in his re-election bid. He is currently being held in jail.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department seized German’s things during their investigation into his death, according to the letter.
In the letter, attorneys for the Review-Journal argued the seizure violated the federal Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits the search and seizure of work product materials and other documentary materials from journalists. They also argued that the information seized is protected by the Nevada Shield Law, which states that no reporter, former reporter or editorial employee is required to disclose any published or unpublished information obtained as part of the news gathering process.
The Review-Journal requested a meeting with law enforcement officials to discuss the disposition of the seized materials.
“The Review-Journal and authorities have worked cordially and in good faith since Jeff German’s killing to resolve concerns about Jeff’s phone and computers and the extremely sensitive information they contain,” Glenn Cook, the Review-Journal's executive editor, said in a statement to The Associated Press. “But negotiations have reached an impasse.”
The Clark County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to an email request for comment on Friday. Neither did the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Ashley Kissinger, a lawyer representing the newspaper, spoke with the District Attorney’s Office and public defender on Thursday. But so far the parties have not been able to come to an agreement, she said in an email to The Associated Press.
“The stakes for a free and independent press in Nevada could not be higher,” Kissinger said in a statement to the newspaper. “Officials in law enforcement want to review information in these devices that likely would reveal the newspaper’s confidential sources at those very agencies. That happens in other countries, but not in the United States. This is precisely why we have press shield laws prohibiting this.”
On Friday, the Review-Journal published an extensive story that German was working on before his death. It examines the Las Vegas-based origins and development of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group, as well as the legal troubles they’re in as a result of their role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. German’s byline is on the story along with another reporter who finished the story after his death.
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326