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Report: City overwrote video of hair-pulling, kicking fight between two councilwomen

Updated September 30, 2022 - 5:51 pm

Las Vegas City Councilwomen Michele Fiore and Victoria Seaman both violated code of conduct policy by attacking each other in 2021 at City Hall after a committee meeting, according to an investigative report the city commissioned.

The 61-page report by an outside law firm also described details of the staff’s viewing and eventual overwriting of a key surveillance video of the altercation that the report stated posed a “substantial risk of damage to the political images and reputations” of the two women and “the part each played in the physical altercation.”

Review-Journal reporters had repeatedly asked for the video in early 2021, but the city gave slow and vague replies and refused confirmation of the video’s existence. Eventually, reporters were told it was deleted after a 60-day period.

Las Vegas City Attorney Bryan Scott spoke to both women in March 2021 to tell them the video was about to be overwritten, and neither wanted a copy, the report said. But Scott told the Review-Journal in September the city had “no records responsive” to the newspaper’s request despite three previous requests on file. He said, “It is my understanding that the city’s video surveillance system recordings are deleted automatically by the surveillance system after 60 calendar days.”

Scott could not be reached for comment, and his voicemail said he was on vacation until Monday. The report concluded that the evidence does not support a “cover-up” of the video for the city’s benefit.

“The city of Las Vegas deliberately destroyed a vital public record for the sole purpose of preventing voters from seeing a violent altercation between elected officials,” Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said. “This cynical, intentional violation of the law shows why the Nevada Legislature should increase civil penalties against governments for violations of the Nevada Public Records Act and impose criminal penalties against individuals who destroy records to hide them from scrutiny.”

The confidential report, released to the full council Thursday and obtained by the Review-Journal, said both women were responsible for the altercation — contradicting Seaman’s contention that Fiore attacked her.

“I found evidence to substantiate that both Councilwoman Seaman and Councilwoman Fiore engaged in conduct in violation of the Code of Conduct on January 11, 2021,” wrote Deverie Christensen, an investigator hired from the law firm of Jackson Lewis P.C. “Regardless of ‘who started it,’ the screaming argument and physical altercation was disrespectful, abusive conduct and wholly inappropriate.”

Seaman sued Fiore and the city Monday, charging officials concocted a “sweeping conspiracy” that failed to protect her, suggested she resign if she couldn’t handle the pressure and covered up the incident.

Fiore is running for state treasurer in November after switching from the governor’s race and was part of an FBI investigation into her campaign finances.

The report, commissioned in November 2021, reviewed eight allegations ranging from Fiore’s rudeness and hostility, the fight, the video deletion and the city’s failure to respond to Seaman’s complaints about Fiore. The report found all of Seaman’s claims were unsubstantiated.

Seaman called the report “100 percent garbage” and said that if she kicked at Fiore, it was just to get her to stop attacking her.

“You have the city investigating the city,” she said. “What they are hiding will come out — all of this is going to come out in court.”

But the report said that Seaman was waving her finger in Fiore’s face when Fiore brushed it away and Seaman kicked Fiore in the shin before Fiore threw her to the ground.

Fiore did not respond to an email request for comment.

Friendship ends badly

The report describes Fiore and Seaman’s friendship and how it fizzled after Seaman criticized racially charged comments Fiore made about affirmative action and revealed to the Review-Journal that the FBI interviewed Seaman about Fiore in June 2021.

After the altercation, Seaman went to Summerlin Hospital but told medical staff she injured her finger after a “trip and fall,” the report said, adding she told staff she was in a hurry to get back to work. Seaman did not report an altercation to medical staff, the report said.

The video, reviewed by several members of the city staff before being written over, did not show Fiore running up behind Seaman and grabbing her hand, as Seaman’s lawsuit alleges, the report said.

Instead, the two women were arguing face to face when Fiore swiped Seaman’s hand to get it away from her face. The video did show Fiore pushing Seaman to the ground by her hair, but Seaman was kicking Fiore in the shin, the report said.

Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German was the first to request the video and wrote about the city’s slowness to provide responses for the footage and that specific queries had generated vague replies.

He was killed on Sept. 2 by what police allege was retaliation for negative stories he wrote about Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles. Telles has been charged with murder.

Sources told German in 2021 the altercation happened on the seventh floor, but city officials, who knew it was on the second floor, did not reveal the location. The city then demanded nearly $64,000 to provide video from all the cameras that day, and the Review-Journal was forced to rescind the request because of the costs. Another Review-Journal reporter filed a request later, but by that time the video was written over, the report said.

State law requires governments to “make a reasonable effort to assist the requester to focus the request in such a manner as to maximize the likelihood the requester will be able to inspect, copy or receive a copy of the public book or record.”

The report stated the system overwrites data on the 60th day. “Because there was no pending public record request when the sixtieth day was reached after January 11, 2021, the videos were overwritten and any floating copies (e.g. on a flash drive) were deleted,” the report said.

In October, city officials told German they would not comment any further on the subject and refused to confirm whether any or all video of the altercation was deleted.

Seaman said Friday she didn’t want a copy of the video because she was so traumatized but said it was Fiore who didn’t want it released to the media.

“This is again more cover-up for the city,” she said, adding the city needs more transparency and policy changes to avoid a similar situation.

The report said Seaman did not ask for a copy of the video and did not press charges or file a police report.

“Mr. Scott, as the City Attorney, did not discourage Councilwoman Seaman from going to the police, filing a police or taking legal action against Councilwoman Fiore,” the report said.

After the fight, the two women went to dinner to try to make up, the report said. Seaman suggested Fiore run for lieutenant governor so she could run for mayor.

“It was clear to Councilwoman Fiore that Councilwoman Seaman was looking for a way to attack and remove Councilwoman Fiore ‘from the mix’ for the Mayor’s position,” the report said.

The Review-Journal investigated Fiore in 2019, reporting she had not been shy about spending campaign and political action committee funds on goods and services that push the limits of the state’s campaign finance law.

Fiore, who was elected to the council in June 2017, spent nearly $200,000 on gasoline, Uber rides, travel, restaurant and grocery store tabs, furniture and her own businesses, records showed.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com and follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter.

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