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County officials deleted evidence on Red Rock housing project, judge rules

Clark County officials willfully destroyed evidence related to a Red Rock housing development, a district court judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Joanna Kishner ruled that jurors in an upcoming civil trial over a proposed development on Blue Diamond Hill will be advised that county officials — including Commissioner Justin Jones, former county Director of Comprehensive Planning Nancy Amundsen and current director Sami Real — willfully deleted text messages regarding the development.

Lawyers for Gypsum Resources and its owner, Jim Rhodes, initially argued that the county and officials should be sanctioned for the destruction of evidence and that jurors should be told about certain aspects of the case.

But Kishner instead narrowed what facts could be presented to the jury and said the county would be able to offer a rebuttal to that presentation, arguing the move allows the jury to evaluate. The findings from the evidentiary hearing constituted sanctions against Clark County, she ruled.

The ruling comes after four days of testimony from several witnesses, including Jones and commissioners Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Jim Gibson.

In final arguments, Gypsum lawyer Todd Bice argued that the county intentionally declined to preserve evidence despite being sent requests to do so.

“There was nothing inadvertent about this,” Bice said of the county’s failure to preserve evidence. “They were trying to mislead us because they knew these text communications were going to be damaging to them.”

County attorney Thomas Dillard argued the county was not aware that civil action might have been imminent hours after county commissioners voted down a key measure for the development in 2019, during which time Jones deleted all text messages off of his phone. Dillard also argued that the county did not encourage text messages to be erased.

“Certainly there was a handful of persons that have failed to appreciate the nature of their personal preservation efforts on their personal phones, but were never encouraged, advised, assisted, persuaded to get rid of information,” Dillard said.

The end of the hearing is just the next step in a yearslong legal dispute in which Rhodes alleges that Jones and county employees blocked efforts for a project to build 5,000 residential units at Blue Diamond Hill southwest of Las Vegas near Red Rock Canyon.

Last year, a federal judge dropped all federal claims brought by Gypsum but declined to take up claims made under state law. Shortly after the ruling, Gypsum sued the county and Jones in state court.

A federal judge sanctioned Jones for deleting text messages related to the project off his phone. Last week, Jones told Kishner he had no recollection of deleting the text messages.

A jury trial is expected to start in July.

An previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of residential units and the nature of the sanction against Clark County by the judge.

Contact Taylor R. Avery at TAvery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on X.

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