Updated September 29, 2023 - 6:09 pm
A police union is asking a judge to require the Las Vegas Review-Journal to take down a video posted with a story about Henderson jail overtime and corrections officer failures, raising concerns about constitutional press freedom.
The newspaper reported that taxpayers have paid millions of dollars to run the city’s understaffed detention center and that corrections officers sometimes made mistakes and violated policy, records show. The exclusive jail surveillance footage and photos were posted with the story.
The Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers union, on behalf of Henderson officers, filed the complaint Wednesday, claiming that the Review-Journal broke a state law that says images of officers in possession of a law enforcement agency are confidential.
The lawsuit comes days after the union sent the Review-Journal and city officials a letter demanding the newspaper remove the pictures and videos of officers attached to the story. The letter, written by executive director Andrew Regenbaum, also demanded the city open a criminal investigation into the source of the video.
The Henderson Police Department and a city spokeswoman did not comment on the letter.
The union claimed in the letter and court records that the Review-Journal jeopardizes officers’ safety for “’sensational’ motives” and that publishing the images puts them in “imminent danger” and causes “irreparable injury.” The lawsuit did not explain why the images endanger officers. Attorneys representing the union said Friday that they were not aware of any specific threats but took legal action to prevent that.
Regenbaum would not say whether officers have been identified or received threats because of the story.
The newspaper has declined to alter or replace its published work as the video is important to its story about potential wrongdoing by taxpayer-paid officials.
“We believe the lawsuit is baseless,” said Benjamin Lipman, the newspaper’s chief legal officer. “The statute that the union is suing under does not put any restrictions on the public, and if it were to apply to the public, it would violate the protections provided by the First Amendment.”
Disagreement over constitutional issues
Regenbaum on Friday called the argument a “ridiculous spin on freedom of the press” and said the union is not asking the newspaper to change or take down the story, just to blur the officers’ faces.
“You’re hiding behind the Constitution for something that is irrelevant to the crux of the story,” he said.
Henderson city attorneys Nicholas Vaskov and Michael Oh also demanded in two separate letters that the Review-Journal remove or redact the images of officers for privacy and safety reasons. In a letter sent to the newspaper Tuesday, Oh wrote that the city was renewing its demand “in an effort to avoid litigation” and later provided the Review-Journal with blurred video of officers to use instead.
The union court filing also wrongly claims the newspaper redacted the faces of some inmates when the video was only altered to cover a Nazi tattoo on an inmate’s back.
The union, represented by attorneys Nicholas Wieczorek and William Schuller, argued in court documents that the Review-Journal can’t circumvent the images being confidential merely because it is not a law enforcement agency — and that “only the officers themselves could have authorized the release.”
Lipman said the statute only applies to government organizations.
The union is asking for a temporary restraining order and an injunction to stop the newspaper from keeping the officers’ images on its website, court records show. It is also asking for attorney fees.
“NAPSO is not looking to stifle the Review-Journal from reporting on anything,” Wieczorek said in a phone interview. “It’s simply asking that the facial identity of its members be anonymized.”
District Judge Mark Denton will hear the case Monday.
Contact Briana Erickson at email@example.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on X. Erickson is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.