A downtown apartment building in the middle of a criminal investigation following a deadly fire was burglarized three separate days last week, a lawyer for the business disclosed in court Thursday.
Steven Jaffe, representing Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC, and managing owner Adolfo Orozco, said the break-ins at the Alpine Motel Apartments occurred on Feb. 27, 28 and 29, and Las Vegas police arrested four people. Two suspects were taken into custody on Friday and two more on Saturday, Jaffe said police indicated.
Jaffe spoke during a civil hearing to determine how and when former residents can get access to their personal belongings left behind when they fled the smoke-filled building the night of Dec. 21.
Police did not return a request for comment.
Police opened a criminal investigation after the fire, which killed six people, left 13 injured and displaced dozens. Orozco, also known as Orozco-Garcia, did not appear in court.
Last week, burglars got into the closed, fire-damaged Alpine, which was found to be laden with dangerous asbestos, by ripping away plywood sheets covering a first-floor window on the north side of the building, Jaffe told District Judge Rob Bare.
After the hearing, Jaffe told the Review-Journal that security officers were on duty at the Alpine last week but did not see any break-ins. In January, a security guard was in the Alpine parking lot, explaining that Orozco’s attorney had hired security on Dec. 31 to monitor the property around the clock.
Jaffe said since last week’s break-ins, the company has reinforced windows on the first floor with “two-by-fours” and hired a new security company.
SWAT officers in protective hazard gear were sent to the Alpine on Friday, he said. The officers saw a suspect ready to jump out of a second-floor window, and when the suspect saw the officers, that person went back inside. The officers then entered the building and arrested two people.
Las Vegas police spokesman Aden Ocampo-Gomez , however, said Friday that SWAT was not involved in the Feb. 28 arrests at the Alpine. He said uniformed patrol officers took two people into custody on misdemeanor trespassing charges and transported them to the Las Vegas city jail.
Ocampo-Gomez said he had no information on arrests at the Alpine on Feb. 29.
Jaffe indicated that he did not know whether those arrested were former residents or people looking to capitalize on the misfortune of the residents.
The area is also known to have a homeless population.
Both Bare and longtime lawyer Robert Eglet, who represents 41 former residents, voiced concerns about the break-ins and whether they could impact civil litigation and any evidence in the building.
Bare said he was motivated to get a comprehensive order out “soon” that would clearly set procedures to preserve evidence and clean up asbestos at the property so that the former residents can get back their personal items as quickly as possible.
“I think all of these people have waited long enough,” he said. “I think it’s time to get the ball rolling.”
Eglet persuaded Bare to allow plaintiff investigators to conduct three days of inspections at the Alpine starting March 11.
“Our clients are very, understandably, frustrated,” Eglet said. “This is everything they have in the world.”
Bare instructed Alpine lawyers to move all of the belongings to a secure location after the asbestos is remediated.
“These people aren’t going back into that building,” he said.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Eglet, who has yet to file any lawsuits on behalf of the residents, said he hoped the residents will be able to get back their personal items as soon as possible, within two weeks to a month.
In court papers this week, Eglet and lawyers for the family of Tracy Cihal, one of the victims who died in the downtown fire, reported to Bare that a dispute had arisen with Alpine attorneys over how to proceed with inspections at the apartment complex. The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in January.
The families of two more victims, including relatives of a heroic maintenance worker who died after trying to get others out of the building, have filed lawsuits against the building’s owner.
Last month, Bare said that, before anyone is allowed to collect items, he needed confirmation that police and fire investigators have finished collecting evidence from the Alpine.
Lawyers provided letters to the judge this week that show Las Vegas police have completed their evidence gathering and both the police and fire departments do not oppose the former residents getting their property back.
In the days after the fire, inspectors noted more than 40 potential fire code violations, including a rear exit door that was bolted shut from the outside. As of this week, no criminal charges have been filed.