Las Vegas police detectives got a legal green light Tuesday to keep and search a cellphone belonging to Adolfo Orozco, the landlord of an apartment building where six died in a December fire.
Police seized the phone under a search warrant in February. Days later, Orozco’s criminal defense attorney filed a motion for police to return the phone, arguing that a judge should first outline what exactly detectives were allowed to search on the phone before it became a fishing expedition.
District Judge Rob Bare denied that motion Tuesday, noting that he was able to review confidential police materials from the “involuntary manslaughter – fire death” investigation that detectives had provided to him.
“It was the most severe residential fire in the history of Las Vegas,” Bare said of the Alpine Motel Apartments blaze. “So I’m going to give them a chance to investigate. The court cannot be the reason why the investigation ultimately is jeopardized.”
“You’ve ruled?” Gentile said about 40 minutes into the hearing.
The judge began to clarify, but Gentile continued.
“It’s kind of interesting that the other side didn’t have to say anything,” Gentile continued, referring to attorneys for Las Vegas police, who had not addressed the judge yet. “You’ve ruled. You’ve ruled.”
In further explanation, the judge noted that while Gentile in his motion had argued for the sealed cellphone search warrant affidavits to be unsealed so Gentile could review for himself any probable cause argument that police made, the judge said after personally reviewing Metropolitan Police Department investigatory materials, he found the sealed affidavits “reasonable.”
The judge also noted that police are focusing their search of Orozco’s phone on content generated between June 2019 and Jan. 28, and — within that time frame — only searching for content related to the Alpine fire.
“I don’t think that Metro, the police, the investigation team has anything but a legitimate reason to retain the property,” Bare said.
Authorities opened the investigation in the wake of the deadly Dec. 21 fire, which also left 13 injured and dozens displaced. Investigators in its aftermath noted more than 40 potential fire code violations, including a rear exit door that had been bolted shut.
As of Tuesday, no criminal charges had been filed in the case.
Bare scheduled a June hearing to check on the status of the phone search, which detectives said could take months.
Recently, the Alpine was burglarized three separate days, a lawyer for the business disclosed in court March 6 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.