A judge on Tuesday denied a Metropolitan Police Department request to fine the Las Vegas Review-Journal for publishing the name of a man now facing federal charges in connection with the Oct. 1 mass shooting.
“What difference does it make at this point?” District Judge Elissa Cadish asked. “Unfortunately, it’s not where I wanted to be, as you know. But this is where we are.”
The man, Douglas Haig, was identified in a Metro document released to the newspaper in January. Haig’s name was included in one of two phrases that were supposed to be redacted.
About five hours after the document was supplied to the Review-Journal, Cadish called a hearing to address what she referred to as an “oversight” in releasing the name. By then the Review-Journal had identified Haig on its website as a “person of interest” in the shooting investigation.
“They knew that they were the only news agency that had this specific information, and they specifically took advantage of this court’s mistake and published it because they were the only news agency in the United States that would have that story,” Metro lawyer Jackie Nichols argued.
Nichols also asked that the newspaper be ordered to pay Metro’s legal fees. Cadish denied the request.
Metro originally argued that Haig’s name should be redacted for fear of physical harm and because of a pending investigation.
“No harm has come to him,” said the newspaper’s attorney, Maggie McLetchie. “He has been federally charged.”
McLetchie also argued that — after Haig’s name was released — the Review-Journal immediately contacted Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who told the newspaper, “If you’ve got it, publish it.”
“The idea that somehow this terrible thing has happened — that this second suspect has suffered and the RJ now needs to be made to pay for it — I just don’t think is supportable,” McLetchie said.
After the newspaper published Haig’s name, the Arizona man identified himself to a gaggle of reporters outside his home as “the guy that sold ammunition to Stephen Paddock.” Later that week, Haig was charged with conspiracy to manufacture and sell armor-piercing ammunition without a license.
“They keep saying over and over in the briefs they want to punish us,” McLetchie said of Metro. “I understand they’re frustrated with how this happened, but they can’t punish the Review-Journal for publishing lawfully obtained, truthful information.”
Before Cadish announced her ruling, she pointed out that Haig still faced charges after the Review-Journal identified him, albeit “sooner than the government had intended or desired.”
“While I wasn’t happy about the Review-Journal not returning the document and choosing to publish the name, I don’t believe that I can find the Review-Journal in contempt of this court, because I don’t believe it violated an order that was in place at the time,” the judge said, adding that “unfortunately, it was the court’s own error, inadvertently disclosing that one page that didn’t have one of the two redactions.”
A hearing in Haig’s federal case is slated for March 15 in Phoenix.