Updated December 1, 2020 - 10:20 pm
An investigator working for the Alpine Motel Apartments owner’s defense team was found in contempt of court Tuesday after refusing to testify during a preliminary hearing.
Don Dibble was previously found in contempt Oct. 27 after he declined to answer questions about his interview with the complex’s manager, Malinda Mier, “in which she essentially confessed to her involvement in the crimes charged,” court records show.
Mier and the Alpine’s owner, Adolfo Orozco, are charged in last year’s deadly blaze that left six people dead, 13 more injured and dozens displaced the week before Christmas.
Each faces one count of manslaughter for each of the victims and 15 counts of performance of an act or neglect of duty in disregard of safety resulting in substantial bodily harm or death. Orozco also faces four counts of preventing or dissuading a witness or victim from reporting a crime with the use of a deadly weapon.
Orozco’s attorney, Dominic Gentile, filed a motion last month asking Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman to reconsider holding Dibble in contempt.
In the motion, Gentile asserted that Dibble was protected from testifying because the defense provided prosecutors his written statement about the interview during a plea and negotiation meeting held in June.
Zimmerman denied the motion Tuesday, saying, “I will be interested in the higher court’s decision.” She also suspended Dibble’s penalty until the defense can exhaust its appeal of her ruling.
Plea, negotiation discussions
According to court documents, Dibble interviewed Mier on June 9 — before she was the subject of the criminal investigation into the fire.
Her attorney, Kristina Wildeveld, said Tuesday that Dibble’s statement was written down only from his memory and didn’t align with her team’s recollection of the interview.
“It’s not a transcription; it’s not verbatim,” she said. “It’s a summary, and the summary is disputed.”
Wildeveld also said Mier met with Dibble in an effort to assist Gentile in the defense of Orozco, “not knowing that any charges would be brought against her.”
Orozco had also not yet been charged on June 18, when Gentile met with Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and other prosecutors to “discuss the options, ranging from no charges being filed to who would be charged and including the possibility of the business entity entering a plea agreement,” according to court documents.
At that point, Gentile submitted to the district attorney’s office a package of documents collected during the defense’s investigation, including the report from Dibble.
During a second meeting, prosecutors said in court filings, a “discussion of potential negotiations were discussed but were unfruitful,” records show.
The second meeting was July 25, when Wolfson told Gentile that both Orozco and Mier would face charges as individuals but not Orozco’s business, Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC, according to court records.
Neither Mier nor Wildeveld were invited to or present at either meeting.
But, Wildeveld argued, her client should still be protected from the testimony because of the off-the-record meetings with Orozco’s team and her connection to him and the case.
“She was an agent of Mr. Orozco; she worked for Mr. Orozco. And but for her relationship with Mr. Orozco, we wouldn’t be sitting here,” she said.
But prosecutor John Giordani disagreed, arguing that the interview with Dibble did not occur during any negotiations and that the testimony would not be used in the prosecution of Orozco.
“This document was provided to us,” Giordani said. “There was no agreement that it could not be used in any derivative form or fashion. And it’s certainly admissible evidence against Ms. Mier.”
Giordani also disputed the nature of the meetings with the defense, saying the district attorney’s office met with Gentile to allow Orozco’s defense to provide mitigating evidence that “may have caused the state to not file charges against Orozco.”
Zimmerman responded, “I think everybody agrees that this is an unusual set of facts in this case because all of these meetings and discussions didn’t involve Malinda Mier or her attorney.”
Since mid-August, Zimmerman has heard from more than 25 witnesses for the preliminary hearing. At its conclusion, she is expected to decide whether prosecutors have enough evidence for Mier and Orozco to stand trial.
Testimony is expected to continue Thursday.