Updated September 27, 2022 - 9:45 am
Editor’s note: Reporter Jeff German started writing this story before he was killed. His colleague finished it.
Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman filed a lawsuit Monday against fellow Councilwoman Michele Fiore, accusing her of assault and battery stemming from a high-profile altercation at City Hall last year.
Seaman also accused city officials of engaging in a sweeping conspiracy to hide and destroy evidence of the alleged assault, including a video of the fight requested multiple times by the Review-Journal. The city is named as a defendant in the suit.
Seaman accused the city of failing to hold Fiore accountable for attacking her in January 2021 and suppressing any efforts to conduct an investigation and prosecution of Fiore. The two women had exchanged angry words after a committee meeting, but a rift had been brewing for months.
“The city by and through its employees, agents, elected officials and/or contractors committed the illegal act of destroying evidence of a crime to deprive the public of the knowledge of events which might embarrass, discredit or reflect poorly on the Las Vegas City Council,” the suit alleges.
After the alleged assault, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman told Seaman that she should consider resigning if she couldn’t handle the stress and suggested Seaman step down from the audit committee instead of removing Fiore, the suit alleges.
Seaman said Goodman and Las Vegas city staff just wanted the issue to go away because it reflects poorly on the city.
“It is a cover-up and it is all at my expense,” she said in a phone interview. “The lawsuit wasn’t my first choice. It was my last resort.”
Goodman and city officials declined to respond to the lawsuit. Fiore did not respond to a request for an interview but issued a statement that did not address the lawsuit allegations.
“The same liberal Republicans who supported Michele’s primary opponent are now doing whatever they have to, to attempt to stop her from winning this election and returning Nevada to a state of financial common sense,” said spokesperson Rory McShane in an email. “This will be no more successful than it was in the primary where she won with the largest margin of any candidate. We look forward to the truth coming out as soon as possible.”
Goodman wrote: “I would love to comment, however, I have been advised against doing so by our City Attorney.”
City spokesman Jace Radke issued a similar statement: “It is the city’s practice not to comment on pending or ongoing litigation.”
Fiore began the 2022 election cycle running for governor but switched and is running for state treasurer in November.
Richard Karpel, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, had previously expressed concern about how the city handled the Review-Journal’s video requests.
In a statement Monday, Karpel said it’s difficult not to conclude that city representatives did everything they could to conceal this incident and destroy evidence associated with it.
“But of course when it comes time to pay for their transgressions Las Vegas taxpayers will be the ones to foot the bill,” he added.
Seaman and Fiore, both Republicans and former assemblywomen, were close friends and political allies until June 2020 when they had a falling-out.
Seaman said the friendship ended after Seaman started noticing Fiore’s “bullying” personality. Fiore was also upset at a comment Seaman made to the media about some racially insensitive comments Fiore made about affirmative action, Seaman said. In 2020, Seaman told the media that she didn’t think Fiore was racist but Fiore’s “presentation was very inappropriate.” Fiore gave up her mayor pro tem position after her comments came to light.
On Jan. 11, 2021, following an Audit Oversight Committee meeting, the feud escalated, according to the lawsuit. The women had exchanged heated words after Seaman told Fiore she felt Fiore had disrespected her at the meeting.
Seaman claims Fiore broke her finger and threw her to the ground in a private, second-floor hallway behind the City Council chambers, the lawsuit alleges.
In the suit, Seaman provided new details about the hallway fight.
“Councilwoman Fiore grabbed Councilwoman Seaman by the hand pulling, jerking, twisting and breaking Councilwoman Seaman’s finger in a violent manner,” the suit alleges. Both women later wound up in the seventh-floor office of Mayor Goodman.
The rift intensified in July 2021 after Seaman told the Review-Journal that FBI agents had questioned her about Fiore at city hall.
Fiore announced her candidacy for governor last year in the crowded Republican primary, despite the FBI investigation into her campaign and political action committee finances. first reported by the Review-Journal.
Seaman said she hasn’t talked to the FBI since 2021 and doesn’t know what is happening with the investigation. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment. A source familiar with the investigation said the FBI is reluctant to act during a campaign.
The altercation between Fiore and Seaman was videotaped, but the city refused to provide it to the Review-Journal despite repeated requests.
A source had told reporter Jeff German in February that the incident took place on the seventh floor. Seven months later, it was discovered the altercation occurred on the second floor but by that time surveillance footage was deleted, according to city officials.
The Review-Journal reported in October that city officials were slow to provide responses for requested video footage, and specific queries generated vague replies and no confirmation about the place and time of the altercation. Officials also stated no emails between city officials existed related to the incident.
At one point, officials discouraged the Review-Journal’s efforts by indicating the newspaper would have to pay the city $63,680 and wait at least 150 business days for one staffer to review all 150 surveillance cameras at City Hall. That is despite state open records laws requiring governments to help requesters identify records.
Seaman said she saw the tape before it was deleted, but she said she was too distraught at the time to request a copy.
“I was humiliated, embarrassed and didn’t want the tape to be made public at the time,” she said. “I was humiliated that this woman grabbed me by the hair.”
While looking at the video with her chief of staff and a city attorney, she became overcome with emotion, and “the city attorney said, ‘it is not easy to watch yourself being assaulted,’ ” the lawsuit says.
“After 60 days both parties were informed that all video footage of the attack was ‘destroyed’ and no longer existed,” the suit states.
Despite seeing a potential crime, city officials allowed the evidence to be destroyed, she said.
City officials “acted in concert to destroy video evidence of a crime when they knew or should have known that such evidence was important and should be preserved and maintained because it might be necessary for future criminal or civil proceedings,” the suit alleges.
Seaman said in an interview that she was told city marshals are investigating the alleged assault, but she said they have “sat on it” since the incident.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Lalli said nothing has been turned over to his office.
The lawsuit also accuses city officials of failing to take action to stop months of Fiore’s alleged abuse, intimidation and harassment of Seaman, as well as failing to create a safe working environment at City Hall. She alleged that officials were “unresponsive and unsympathetic to her concerns and requests.”
Because of the city’s inaction, Fiore “became emboldened and began to be even more hostile, aggressive and malicious,” the suit alleges. “She continued distorting the truth about the attack that had occurred to members of the community, claiming she was attacked by Councilwoman Seaman.”
She said Fiore continues her inappropriate behavior and she lives in fear of her. “She’s a scary person,” Seaman said.
Seaman is seeking general and punitive damages.
Public records request and city response
The Review-Journal originally requested video Feb. 9, 2021.
On Feb. 24, the city provided one video outside the public elevators on the seventh floor, but there was no footage of a fight. The video shows Michele Fiore and Victoria Seaman walking out of the elevator in the morning not looking at one another or talking to each other.
The Review-Journal broadened the request Feb. 25 to include video of all City Hall security cameras showing the struggle between the two councilwomen.
A deputy city attorney responded March 4 that it would take at least 2,000 hours for one staffer to review the cameras for fight footage and cost the Review-Journal $63,680. The deputy did not tell the newspaper that any video of the fight would be automatically deleted within days, by March 12.
Faced with the five-figure bill and the lengthy review time, a reporter on March 8 informed the city in writing that “at this point, we are not going to proceed further on this request.”
Officials also did not inform the Review-Journal about their video deletion policy — retaining surveillance video for 60 days — until the footage likely had been deleted.
The new lawsuit states, “After 60 days both parties were informed that all video footage of the attack was destroyed and no longer existed.”