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Judge slams Las Vegas police for keeping sex trafficking records secret

Updated August 8, 2018 - 4:11 pm

A Clark County judge sharply rebuked the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department on Wednesday for withholding public records requested by the Review-Journal about sex trafficking cases and prostitution arrests, saying that the department’s reaction to the newspaper “boggles the mind.”

“As I sit here it is clear that Metro has not complied or even come close to compliance with the (Nevada Public Records Act),” District Judge Joe Hardy Jr. said.

Metro attorney Jackie Nichols argued that the police department does not have the ability to search for records by criminal charge, that a database the newspaper requested does not qualify as a record and that information about officers’ unit assignments should be kept confidential to protect their safety.

Hardy responded that Nichols’ arguments do not qualify as evidence and that Metro has provided “zero evidence” for why it has not released the records — which, he added, “almost leaves me speechless.”

In May, the Review-Journal sued Metro, accusing the police department of numerous violations of the state’s open records law, including denying access to public documents, charging exorbitant fees and sluggishly responding to requests. The Review-Journal filed the first of several open records requests for the documents in February 2017. In response, Metro has demanded thousands of dollars in fees and incorrectly directed the newspaper to another agency for records.

Metro recently admitted in a court filing that it did not respond to some of the newspaper’s requests.

“Metro has forced the petitioner to go round and round and spin wheels and incur attorneys fees and costs it should have never incurred,” Hardy said during the lawsuit’s first court hearing Wednesday. “Metro really needs to take its obligations seriously,” he said.

Hardy told Metro to engage in “good faith” negotiations with the newspaper and said the parties need to appear before him again in two weeks with an update. The judge said this was the department’s “last opportunity to comply” with the law and urged Metro to set aside its “positions that lack merit.”

Hardy said he hoped Metro would work with the Review-Journal, but given the department’s history on this case he was “not very confident that will happen.”

Metro declined to comment.

“The Court has issued yet another unmistakable defense of the Nevada Public Records Act,” Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said. “Nevada governments must stop wasting taxpayer money on baseless, pointless resistance to basic requests for public information.”

Review-Journal attorney Maggie McLetchie said she was pleased with Hardy’s message to the police department.

“The court properly recognized Metro’s failure to comply with Nevada’s public records act and I am glad Metro will now have to sit down with the RJ,” she said. “However, it shouldn’t take a court order and attorneys to get a public agency to follow the law. Metro has important work to do but it is not above the mandates of the public records act. More importantly, it shouldn’t take over a year and a half to get access to records Metro admits are public records.”

Contact Brian Joseph at bjoseph@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5208. Follow @bjoseph1 on Twitter.

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