SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Las Vegas drug convictions rely on faulty police field tests

At the outset of the 1990s, the Metropolitan Police Department began making thousands of arrests every year using inexpensive test kits meant to detect illegal drugs. Officers simply had to drop suspected cocaine or methamphetamine – taken from someone’s pocket or the floorboards of their car – into a pouch of chemicals and watch for telltale changes in colors. Known as “field tests,” police embraced them as essential in busting drug users and dealers. Local judges became sold on the kits’ usefulness and prosecutors relied on them to quickly secure guilty pleas – hundreds upon hundreds, year after year.

All along, though, police and prosecutors knew the tests were vulnerable to error, and by 2010, the police department’s crime lab wanted to abandon its kits for methamphetamine and cocaine. In a 2014 report that Metro submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice under the terms of a federal grant, the lab detailed how the kits produced false positives. Legal substances sometimes create the same colors as illegal drugs. Officers conducting the tests, lab officials acknowledged, misinterpreted results. New technology was available – and clearly needed to protect against wrongful convictions..

Yet to this day, the kits remain in everyday use in Las Vegas. In 2015, the police department made some 5,000 arrests for drug offenses, and the local courts churned out 4,600 drug convictions, nearly three-quarters of them relying on field test results, according to an analysis of police and court data. Indeed, the department has expanded the use of the kits, adding heroin to the list of illegal drugs the tests can be used to detect.

There’s no way to quantify exactly how many times the field tests were wrong or how many innocent people pleaded guilty based on the inaccurate results, or to assess the damage to their lives.

To be sure, most field tests are accurate and most drug defendants who take plea deals are guilty. But — just as certainly — there have been some number of convictions based on false positives. How many? The department maintains it has never established an error rate. The department destroys samples after pleas are entered and does not track how many of its field test results are re-checked. Drug arrest and lab testing data show the number could be as low as 10 percent.

What is clear is that even as they continue to employ field tests to secure arrests and gain convictions, neither the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department nor the Clark County district attorney’s office has informed local judges of the long-standing knowledge of their unreliability. And neither has taken any additional steps to prevent mistakes.

Informed recently of the findings reported to the Justice Department, Joe Bonaventure, chief judge of the Las Vegas Justice Court, expressed concern about the flaws but did not say whether he plans to change his court’s regard for the tests.

“These are tests that have been accepted for years,” said Bonaventure, who became a judge in 2004. “They’re not being challenged.”

A thousand convictions, few trials (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Kim Murga, the director of the Las Vegas police crime lab, said the department still wants to stop using chemical field tests in arrests for methamphetamine and cocaine. “We don’t turn a blind eye” to the risk of false positives, Murga said. But she acknowledged that the lab had not tried to more effectively eliminate errors.

In 2014, the same year Metro’s report to the DOJ detailed misgivings about the reliability of field tests, prosecutors in Houston identified more than 300 cases in which innocent people took plea deals largely based on field test results that proved wrong. Unlike in Las Vegas, Houston’s lab hung on to evidence even after defendants pleaded guilty. Lab tests later proved that the alleged drugs were not controlled substances. By that time, though, many people had spent time in jail or prison. Some were saddled for years with felony convictions that devastated their lives.

The district attorney’s office in Harris County, the jurisdiction where Houston is, no longer accepts guilty pleas based on field tests. Drug evidence must be confirmed by the crime lab for prosecutors to obtain a conviction.

Officials at the Clark County district attorney’s office would not be interviewed about the use of field tests in Las Vegas or their reliability. Jennifer Knight, a spokeswoman for the police department, said the lab had informed the district attorney’s office of the concerns about field test reliability when it sent the 2014 report to the Department of Justice.

In some respects, people arrested for drug offenses based on field tests in Las Vegas find themselves in more dire circumstances than they might elsewhere.

■ People allegedly possessing even small amounts of a drug like cocaine can be charged with trafficking and thus be exposed to stiff sentences and steep bail amounts.

■ Prosecutors routinely resist efforts to have drug evidence quickly retested in the lab, often keeping those who fight the charges in jail longer.

■ Police and prosecutors have made presentations to judges vouching for the reliability of field tests. Defense attorneys say such proceedings leave judges predisposed to accept field test results as authoritative.

Phil Kohn, chief of the Las Vegas public defender’s office, acknowledged that the prospect of serious prison time has the effect of strong-arming pleas.

“If you’re wondering why the public defender is pleading these cases, it’s because the alternative is horrific,” Kohn said.

Chemical field tests were first widely deployed by law enforcement in the 1960s amid the early skirmishes of the war on drugs. Today, they are used by hundreds of police agencies across the country, from the giant New York Police Department to far smaller departments throughout rural America. In 2011, the Department of Justice hired a private research firm for a national survey, and every jurisdiction it contacted used field tests for drug arrests.

The tests are cheap — $2 apiece or less — and they are enormously convenient for police. Over the years, numerous studies have concluded that they are legitimate tools to establish probable cause to make an arrest. But those studies have always emphasized the limits of the tests. For instance, they ought never be seen as definitive evidence of illegal drugs. Federal guidelines say all drugs in criminal cases must be identified by a qualified lab. Kevin Lothridge, head of the National Forensic Science Technology Center, said scientists’ position has been that field tests could provide only “an indication something might be there.” Courts across the country have repeatedly refused to admit field test results as evidence at trial. The Safariland Group, which produces the brand of tests purchased by Metro and is the largest manufacturer of the test kits, said in a statement last week that “field tests are specifically not intended to be used as a factor in the decision to prosecute or convict a suspect.”

Nonetheless, in jurisdictions of all sizes and in all corners of the country, unconfirmed field tests are being used to help extract guilty pleas. The 2011 national study commissioned by the Justice Department found that prosecutors in nine of the 10 jurisdictions surveyed accepted guilty pleas using unconfirmed field tests. ProPublica’s analysis of the available data – arrests, convictions, plea bargains, rates of field test use – suggests that every year, a minimum of 100,000 people nationwide plead guilty to drug charges that rely on field-test results as evidence. Even a modest error rate, then, could produce hundreds or even thousands of wrongful convictions.

David LaBahn, president of the Washington-based Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said the hundreds of wrongful convictions in Houston had effectively put the nation’s criminal justice system on notice. Jurisdictions still accepting guilty pleas based on field tests were playing with fire.

“It’s sloppy work,” he said. “If they haven’t heard about Houston, people better start paying attention.”

Perhaps no jurisdiction in the country is as equipped to understand the risk of wrongful convictions as Las Vegas. The unreliability of field tests, after all, is not theoretical here. Their shortcomings were painstakingly memorialized in the 2014 report that called for the tests to be replaced.

Yet Las Vegas police continue to arrest people using field tests, and the volume of drug pleas continues largely unabated. The police made some 13,000 arrests involving cocaine, methamphetamine or marijuana offenses from 2013 through 2015. More than 10,000 convictions resulted from these drug arrests and 99 percent of them were achieved through guilty pleas, court data show. The records establish that some 70 percent of the pleas came at the earliest possible moment, during preliminary hearings and before any lab retesting.

Chapter 1: Perfect Solution, Perfect Storm

During the 1980s, as the population of Las Vegas exploded, the number of drug arrests did, too. As in other U.S. cities, the Las Vegas police force saw drug enforcement as a way to reduce all forms of crime, especially burglaries and other thefts. Las Vegas patrol officers aggressively searched out small-time sellers and users on and around the Strip, eager to safeguard residents and tourists alike.

Most drug charges rely on flawed field tests (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

But as the department came to average some 4,000 drug arrests a year by the decade’s end – a formidable figure for a city of 250,000 — its crime lab became swamped. The department budgeted for fewer than three full-time scientists to test the huge volume of drug evidence. Without lab reports identifying drugs, prosecutors couldn’t file criminal charges and were legally limited to detaining suspects for eight days. As a result, hundreds of suspects waited out the eight days and were released.

Field tests were an appealing answer to the problem. Bill Jansen, a former FBI agent who became a judge on the Las Vegas Justice Court in 1985, remembers attending a presentation with colleagues by Becton Dickinson, which manufactured the NIK Public Safety brand of chemical field test kits. The police were there as well. Company officials demonstrated how the tests could be used to detect cocaine and how officers would perform the tests.

The benefits would be multiple: preliminary positive results would be enough to hold defendants longer in jail; pleas could happen in the interim; and the lab would need to retest the alleged drugs only in cases where the accused maintained their innocence and proceeded toward trial. The judges on the Justice Court were assured by police, prosecutors and the manufacturer that the chance for mistakes was microscopic, less than one in 4,000, according to a November 1989 article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Individual judges then held formal evidentiary hearings and signed off, allowing the tests to be used first in cocaine prosecutions and then in methamphetamine and marijuana cases as well.

“This was only for the purpose of the preliminary hearing,” Jansen, now 80, said in an interview. “That is all.”

Over time, though, preliminary hearings became just about the only hearings taking place in criminal drug cases in Las Vegas. Last year, for example, just eight of 4,633 drug cases that resulted in convictions went to trial, according to court data. Plea deals sealed the rest.

The explosion in the use of field tests by police and their increasingly decisive role in criminal convictions have received scant attention over the years. An array of anecdotal accounts describe arrests based on what later turned out to be soap or doughnut crumbs or grains of sand.

Field tests have received a similar lack of scrutiny from government and law enforcement. No central agency, for instance, regulates the manufacture or sale of the tests, and no comprehensive records are kept about their use. There’s no evidence any federal, state or local law enforcement agency has sought to formally establish error rates for the tests. While DOJ standards for the last 40 years have called for qualified labs to re-examine all field test results, the agency has made no effort to insist that happens or to install other protections against mistakes and the wrongful convictions that could result.

And the destruction of field tests after guilty pleas is hardly limited to Las Vegas. In some jurisdictions, defendants accepting guilty pleas agree as a term of the arrangement that the evidence against them will be destroyed. In others, the alleged evidence is simply discarded over time. In a 2013 federal survey of local and state crime labs, 62 percent reported that police agencies don’t submit suspected drugs when a defendant pleads guilty early on in the process.

As a result, officers on the street almost never know whether there are problems with the accuracy of the tests and thus have little reason for skepticism. As far as they know, the system works.

Throughout, the manufacturers of the tests have pushed them as an indispensable and effective tool for catching and punishing drug users. Currently, at least nine different companies sell tests to identify cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, LSD, MDMA and more than two dozen other drugs. And three of the largest suppliers of the kits, including the company that sells field tests to the Las Vegas police, long ignored the Justice Department’s guidelines calling for manufacturers to include warnings of test fallibility on their packaging.

In Las Vegas, the police came to create a partnership with one major kit manufacturer, ODV Inc. The Maine company made the NarcoPouch brand, and it produced a kind of quality-control checklist for the Las Vegas authorities that is billed in company promotional materials as boosting the tests’ credibility with courts. Officers, at least in theory, were required to check off boxes indicating they had followed every step in the testing process and interpreted the results correctly.

“With this form having been completed, a DA can then feel more comfortable that the proper controls were followed and the results of the field test given more weight,” the company’s newsletter said.

Judges got the completed checklists – which always carried the declaration “Result POSITIVE” — as part of the case file at preliminary hearings. So did defense attorneys, often at the same time they received the prosecution’s plea offer. And that’s how things work to this day.

Ownership of the ODV NarcoPouch brand field tests has changed a number of times over the years. But Las Vegas has remained a customer, almost without exception buying nothing but the brand for close to two decades. Murga, the police forensics director, said the department purchases only those tests deemed acceptable by the lab and supported by the Justice Court. The lab endorses only ODV NarcoPouch. Between 2010 and 2014, the Las Vegas police purchased more than 42,000 test kits.

The brand is owned today by the Safariland Group, based in Ontario, California. When asked about its tests’ reliability and proper use, the company gave a response that seems to call into question years of practice by police, prosecutors and judges in Las Vegas.

“False positives are possible in field tests due to the limitations of the science, which is why we also clearly state in our training materials and instructions that they are not a substitute for laboratory testing,” a Safariland spokesman said in a written statement.

“In a trial or other criminal procedure setting,” the statement continued, “field tests should not be used as evidence of the presence, or lack thereof, of any substance.”

Jansen, who served on the bench until 2012, said he and other judges hadn’t anticipated just how many drug cases would result in pleas and just how quickly they would be brokered. But he said he had no reason to find fault with the use of the tests. It was up to defense lawyers to challenge their reliability. Bonaventure, the court’s current chief judge, agreed.

“I’m surprised that defense attorneys haven’t brought it up,” Bonaventure said.

Chapter 2: A Tattered Line of Defense

Defense attorneys are the most obvious protection against unreliable field tests leading to wrongful convictions.

In Las Vegas, there is considerable evidence that defense attorneys have been derelict in that duty.

A federal review of Nevada’s indigent defense programs in 2000 turned up worrisome and pervasive problems with court-appointed counsel in Clark County. The National Legal Aid and Defender Association came to similar conclusions in examining the public defender’s office two years later.

“The perception among the client population, gleaned from courtroom observation and client interviews, is that the public defender office seeks to get clients to plead as quickly as possible, regardless of whether they are guilty or of other needs and concerns the client may have,” the association’s report found. Few lawyers filed motions to suppress evidence, the report said, with some admitting they hadn’t done so in as much as five years.

In 2008, the association said problems with sheer indifference had lessened, but the quality of representation remained unimpressive. Judges told the association that public defenders simply weren’t very aggressive.

Kohn, chief of the public defender’s office, defended the integrity of his attorneys and said they did their best in difficult circumstances. He noted, for instance, that caseloads remain crushing – more than 200 active cases per attorney – and the office’s work on behalf of those accused of drug offenses is handicapped in other ways as well.

Minimum bail for those charged with drug possession is $5,000, requiring defendants to have at least $500 available to secure bonds and their release from jail. Furthermore, cases that would be low-level possession prosecutions in the rest the country are counted as trafficking offenses in Nevada. The state’s drug laws say possession of just 4 grams of cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin constitutes trafficking — a far graver felony offense. By comparison, federal law requires 500 grams of powder cocaine for a trafficking charge, 100 grams of heroin or 50 grams of methamphetamine. Bail at the Las Vegas Justice Court for a trafficking offense is $20,000.

Jurisdictions where prosecutors or judges accept plea deals using unconfirmed field tests (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The expense of posting bail and the risk of going to trial, Kohn said, can make plea offers knocking felonies down to misdemeanors more attractive even though misdemeanors can bring up to 180 days in jail and tough probation terms.

“A lot of clients are going to do one of two things,” Kohn said. “They’re going to say, ‘Hey, look, I know I had this stuff. I’m getting a misdemeanor and I’m getting out. All I want is out.’”

Alternatively, Kohn said, the thinking is this:

“I have no idea what was in my pocket but I’ve got to get back to work. I’ve been out for 72 hours, I’ve got the kind of job where if I miss one more day, I lose it.”

Kohn’s analysis is echoed by others. Laurie Diefenbach, a former public defender who is now a private defense attorney in Las Vegas, said even clients inclined to fight frequently choose to take a conviction in the belief that it is less harmful than months lost to a jail cell.

Putting a human face on the innocent in Las Vegas who might have pleaded guilty in such circumstances is close to impossible, given the routine destruction of the alleged evidence against them. The hundreds of wrongful convictions in Houston came to light only because the lab retested every field test that had produced a conviction. Still, the retesting took months or even years, and the district attorney’s office for years overlooked the lab reports proving hundreds innocent.

Among those wrongly convicted in Houston, even some of those who avoided much time behind bars lost jobs and the chance at future employment. One pleaded guilty after a grain of sand had tested positive for cocaine. Another after caffeine had done the same. The innocent, the Houston data show, pleaded guilty quickly, on average within four days of being arrested and well before the lab ever had a chance to confirm the field test results. Scores of them had never been convicted of anything prior to being jailed on erroneous drug charges, according to court records. They had families to get back to, careers to try to save.

In Las Vegas, the clearest evidence of faulty field test results emerges from the tiny number of cases in which defendants have gone to trial to challenge drug evidence. In several cases, the defendants were seasoned street hustlers, dealers of phony drugs to tourists along the Strip. They pushed for trial and compelled lab tests because they knew the nature of their scams – and that their drugs weren’t real.

Such embarrassing outcomes happened dozens of times between 2010 and 2013, police and court records show. Las Vegas patrol officers pulled over a local man’s car in December 2010 because it “did not have any functioning license plate lights,” the arrest report states. He had small knotted baggies that held six grams of off-white powder. Eight months later, officers detained another man after watching him walk around the Imperial Palace hotel and casino’s blackjack tables without sitting down to gamble. He had 21 grams of powder in plastic bags.

In both cases, prosecutors charged the defendants with crimes punishable by a dozen years in state prison based in large part on positive field tests of the suspected drugs. In both cases, the evidence was not cocaine but the numbing agent lidocaine, packaged to look like the illegal stimulant. The Las Vegas police crime lab proved the first man innocent eight months after his arrest, analysis records show. The other man’s results took almost 19 months to arrive.

ProPublica interviewed more than a dozen defense lawyers and public defenders in Las Vegas, and they all said prosecutors delayed having field tests retested in a lab until the eve of trial. The tactic, they said, extended defendants’ jails stays and pressured them to plead guilty.

The Clark County district attorney’s office declined to answer questions about delays in retesting drug evidence, but Glen O’Brien, the chief deputy district attorney, detailed the thinking behind the practice in a 2014 court filing.

“Due to the great number of drug cases that are prosecuted but the relatively few that actually go to trial, such testing is generally done just prior to trial commencing, when it is clear the matter is actually going to trial,” O’Brien wrote.

Chapter 3: An Alarm Bell, Rung Quietly

By 2010, the Metropolitan Police Department was ready to move on from chemical field tests. The tests had produced more than 50,000 arrests and scores of convictions. The defense bar was not up in arms. The judges had long ago accepted their value.

But new technology was available: spectrometers that shine a laser on suspicious material and reveal its chemical makeup. The hand-held devices cost about $20,000 apiece, but a manufacturer offered to partner with Metro to tailor the devices for law enforcement. The crime lab saw the technology as the future.

And so Stephanie Larkin, a forensic scientist in the Las Vegas lab, set about making the case for spectrometers, securing funding from the Department of Justice to do research. Over the next several years, she and others did testing they said showed the spectrometers performed well. The devices didn’t produce any false positives for cocaine or methamphetamine in Larkin’s study. Occasionally, when the device failed to identify illegal drugs, the manufacturer made adjustments.

Larkin, though, did not just document the ostensible strengths of the spectrometers. Again and again, in the 95-page report she finalized in 2014, she explicitly documented the shortcomings of the field tests her department had been using for decades.

“Over the past few years,” Larkin wrote, “false positive results have been discovered due to subjectivity of color interpretation and tedious procedures.”

Larkin’s report acknowledged that problems with field tests were in fact what had led the department to recognize “the need to find a more reliable method” for identifying suspected drugs outside the lab.

Larkin also worried openly about issues of contamination, noting that given the problems with conducting the tests cleanly and competently, defense attorneys might raise doubts about their integrity. A considerable number of chemical field tests performed in a formal lab setting during her years of study had produced what are known as false negatives, a failure to identify what were indeed illegal drugs.

In sounding an alarm, however, Larkin’s report focused not on whether innocent people might have been convicted by faulty evidence or that guilty people might have gone free, but instead on the prospect of the lab having to go back to the days of wholesale drug testing.

The lab, she feared, would be swamped again.

“With over 34,000 items of evidence being field tested each year, the elimination of the field testing program would overwhelm the laboratory and compromise due process,” she wrote.

Larkin could have sought to answer the questions that judges and defendants might have found most valuable: Just how flawed were the tests? Just how often were mistakes happening?

John Goodpaster, the forensic sciences director at Indiana University, said such a step would have been logical, even imperative. “The determination of error rates in forensic science is an important issue and it has been recommended by numerous organizations and committees,” he said.

But the Las Vegas police have made no effort to quantify the likelihood of mistakes – in effect, an error rate for the field tests.

“The true percentage of errors due to false positives is unknown,” Larkin wrote in the report.

ProPublica talked at length with Larkin and Murga, the lab chief. They confirmed that one of the central rationales for the study and report was alarm about the shortcomings of field tests. Larkin said false positives produced by field tests were their “number one” concern.

“Obviously, we don’t want false positives,” Larkin said during an interview in July.

But neither Murga nor Larkin explained why they had not taken further steps to prevent such results.

The department today remains intent on switching to laser technology and has even purchased one or two spectrometers. The spectrometers have attracted interest but few buyers among the nation’s police agencies. The cheaper chemical field tests still dominate police drug testing.

As for Larkin’s report, it was sent to the Department of Justice, which posted it online with other forensic science studies the agency had funded over the years. It does not seem to have circulated much beyond that.

ProPublica found it in a digital archive in 2015, just as the Metropolitan Police Department was ordering its latest supply of field tests.

Chapter 4: The Latest Sales Pitch

On July 8, 2015, the judges of the Las Vegas Justice Court gathered at lunchtime in Chief Judge Joe Bonaventure’s courtroom. They were there for one of their regular meetings on logistics and scheduling, but on that day there was an added agenda item: the latest chapter in chemical field testing in Las Vegas.

A year after the police had made an argument to abandon the kits because of their unreliability, they were back before the judges to argue for expanding their use to combat increases in heroin abuse and trafficking.

Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney Tina Talim told the judges that the police lab had assigned scientist Michael Noble to find a way to quickly and accurately identify suspected heroin seized by officers, according to an official summary of the meeting obtained by ProPublica. Noble, in his first year as a staff scientist, had helped produce a fairly complicated protocol designed to reduce the potential for false positives.

His plan was to have police use a series of three different field tests with each one producing a distinct color change – first purple, then green, then purple again. One field test can easily malfunction or be misread. Requiring officers to use three tests, Noble believed, might enhance accuracy.

Noble organized a study and examined how the tests responded to more than 350 different substances, most of them pure compounds purchased from chemistry supply firms, research records show. Noble also tried the method on 50 samples of suspected heroin obtained in arrests.

Judge Diane Sullivan wanted to know about the potential for mistakes. Of the samples from arrests, she asked Noble, how many of those were later found to have been false positives?

None, he responded.

Noble didn’t mention the lab’s report from just a year before laying out problems with officers misinterpreting and mishandling field tests. He didn’t mention the false positives for cocaine and methamphetamine.

None of the judges asked another question about field test reliability.

Noble’s statement about heroin field test errors was technically accurate. But a ProPublica examination of his work shows that Noble didn’t add an important detail in answering the judge’s concern about false positives.

Noble, it turns out, had determined that the suspected heroin seized by officers was indeed heroin before he subjected the samples to the new testing method. The research did not find false positives because there were none to find.

The chemical field tests that Noble prescribed will detect heroin. However, there’s no telling what else police might mistake for heroin when performing the tests themselves.

Noble said he does not recall his exchange with the judges more than a year ago. He added that every detail of the results and methodology was in a written report provided to all judges at the meeting.

Several experts pointed out that Noble’s study did not attempt to assess how well police officers perform the tests.

“The ideal probably would have been not to have the scientist do this,” said Michael Kalichman, founding director of the research ethics program at the University of California, San Diego.

Over the last 18 months, police have routinely used the test protocol in making heroin arrests. Prosecutors have just as regularly used those results to help obtain guilty pleas. And judges have, week after week in Justice Court, signed off on the pleas and sentenced the defendants.

None of the Justice Court’s judges has held a formal evidentiary hearing on the reliability of the new heroin test. Bonaventure, the top judge, said the bench was effectively waiting for defense attorneys to ask for one.

Asked about the use of field tests in heroin arrests and prosecutions, Christopher Lalli, an assistant district attorney for Clark County, said they are “sufficiently reliable for the purpose (they are) being utilized (for).” He then asserted that the tests are authorized for this use in jurisdictions in at least eight other states.

Lothridge, the head of the National Forensic Science Technology Center, said the tests’ shortcomings are less about science and more about their use by the justice system.

“Science can do some things,” Lothridge said. “But if the legal community chooses to go another way and allows people to plead without additional testing or those kinds of things, that’s not a science problem. That’s really the legal system’s issue.”

ProPublica writer Topher Sanders contributed to this report

2 in custody after chase
Two people were in custody after a chase involving Nevada Highway Patrol and Nye County Sheriff"s office deputies ended in southwest Las Vegas. Las Vegas police blocked off Rainbow Boulevard north of Tropicana Avenue around 1 a.m. Wednesday. Law enforcement personnel prepared to tow a black sedan as part of their investigation. It's not certain what precipitated the chase or where and when it started. Check back for updates.
Watch Las Vegas police wild pursuit through busy Las Vegas streets
An intense chase near Downtown Las Vegas ends after gunfire is exchanged as the suspect flees on busy streets and ends up near an elementary school. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Man shot strolling through park
A man was hospitalized early Tuesday morning after being shot while walking in a central Las Vegas park. Las Vegas police say the man and a woman were in Molasky Park just after midnight when the man was shot. The pair ran to a nearby supermarket where a security guard called for help. The man was hospitalized and as of 3 a.m. was in stable condition. Police have yet to identify the shooter and no suspects are in custody.
Police investigating shooting at east valley apartment complex
No one was injured late Monday night after someone fired shots at a vehicle at an east valley apartment complex. Police responded just before midnight to the Hamptons Apartments, 3070 S. Nellis Blvd. Someone fired shots at a vehicle that was leaving the complex, and struck the vehicle. Another bullet struck a nearby apartment building. The shooter or shooters remain at-large.
Hundreds Attend Slides, Rides and Rock and Roll in North Las Vegas
Hundreds attended the inaugural slides, rides and rock and roll event in North Las Vegas Saturday. The event featured a car show, water slide park and live music. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It's All Rainbows At The Center's New Cafe
The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada (The Center) introduced its new coffeeshop, Little Rainbow Cafe, in June. Rainbows are everywhere, even in the lattes and toast, and employees wear t-shirts with the quote "Be a rainbow in someone's cloud." Owner Ben Sabouri said the concept is "built around the idea of, you know, be kind and treat everybody the same." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get a Rainbow Latte at the The Center's Little Rainbow Cafe
The Center, a community center for the LGBTQ community of Southern Nevada, has a new cafe. Little Rainbow Cafe serves up a pride-inspired signature "Rainbow Latte." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed trying to cross Sahara
A pedestrian was killed Friday trying to cross Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway about 5 a.m. A sedan struck the pedestrian while the person was outside the crosswalk between Maryland Parkway and Pardee Place, according to Las Vegas police. Police also said the driver of the sedan remained at the site of the crash. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene. This is the 75th fatal crash that Las Vegas police have investigated in 2018.
Man shot multiple times
Las Vegas police are investigating after a man was shot multiple times early Friday morning. The shooting was called in about 3:20 a.m. at the Harbor Island Apartments, 370 E. Harmon Ave., near Koval Lane. The man was hospitalized and is expected to survive, but police are still searching for the shooter.
Former Military Police Corps Officer Celebrates 100th Birthday
Summerlin resident Gene Stephens, who served as a military policeman in WWII and escorted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Roosevelt during the war, turned 100 on July 13, 2018. He credits his longevity to living a normal life, exercising regularly and eating three square meals a day. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries
A motorcycle rider was seriously injured Tuesday night after a crash on Charleston Boulevard. The crash was reported just before 10 p.m. near Durango Drive, according to Las Vegas police. The motorcyclist was hospitalized with unknown injuries but is expected to survive. Las Vegas police are investigating the cause of the accident.
CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara Has Lunch With Students
New Clark County School District superintendent Jesus Jara continued his listening tour by having lunch with students at Red Rock Elementary School as part of the district's summer lunch program. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 18 can find a free lunch at 104 different locations across the valley through the summer months. Jara highlighted the free program and the importance of eating healthy during his visit. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Timeline Leading Up to Scott Dozier's Execution
Scott Dozier is set to be executed by lethal injection the night of July 11 at Ely State Prison. Dozier was convicted of the April 2002 killing of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller and was given the death penalty in Oct. 2007. In 2016 Dozier asked in a letter to District Judge Jennifer Togliatti requesting that he “be put to death.” A three-drug cocktail of midazolam, a sedative; the painkiller fentanyl; and cisatracurium, a paralytic, is expected to end his life. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Program Helps Mothers Battling Addiction
Jennifer Stanert has battled drug addiction on and off for the last 21 years. It caused her to lose custody of one of her children, Alec, after she gave birth while high. A new program at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospitals aims to connect mothers like Stanert with community resources and provide case management services while still pregnant to get connected to lactation and parenting classes, group peer support and education on neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Felon caught with guns in Mandalay Bay room 3 years before Las Vegas shooting
A felon was caught with guns in a Mandalay Bay hotel room three years before the October 1st mass shooting. Six weapons were found inside Kye Aaron Dunbar’s 24th floor room in November 2014. Four were semi-automatic. One was a scoped rifle pointing toward the Strip, according to court documents. Dunbar was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for unlawful possession. The case just came to light in a lawsuit accusing Mandalay Bay of negligence in connection with the Oct. 1st shooting.
Illegal fireworks in the Las Vegas area garner complaints
Clark County received nearly 25,000 complaints over the Independence Day holiday on a new illegal fireworks site. Reports from the site led to at least 10 illegal fireworks busts across the valley overnight. As of Thursday morning, the county is still compiling the total number of citations issued.
House fire displaces 2 people
Two people were displaced after a house fire early Thursday morning. The fire, at 963 Temple Drive in east Las Vegas, was reported just after midnight, according to a battalion chief from the Clark County Fire Department. Crews from the North Las Vegas and Las Vegas fire departments also were called in to help. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Red White and Boom" July 4 Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Full video of the Fourth of July "Red White and Boom" fireworks show at the Stratosphere as seen from the 8th floor Elation Pool. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite. (7-04-18) (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Crowds Enjoy Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Revelers enjoyed watching fireworks displays from the Stratosphere's 8th floor Elation pool on July 4. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed in Henderson
A pedestrian trying to cross St. Rose Parkway at Bermuda was hit by a vehicle on Tuesday night and later died. The crash was reported around 11:30 p.m. Las Vegas police responded initially, but handed over the investigation to Henderson police once it was determined the accident happened in their jurisdiction. Las Vegas police did respond to a report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle on the Strip. The person, who was hit by a BMW near Fashion Show mall, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
USPS owes $3.5 million for using Vegas Statue of Liberty on stamp
The United States Postal Service has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a sculptor after using the Las Vegas replica of the Statue of Liberty in a stamp. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Officer Brent Horlacher shoots at Jessie Murillo
Las Vegas police video of an officer-involved shooting on June 29, 2018. Officer Brent Horlacher, 28, fired a single shot at suspect Jessie Murillo. Murillo was not injured. The radio audio is of the officer who fired the gun and the body camera video is from a different officer. Radio audio excerpts are added to the video and are not the precise times the audio was spoken.
Pawn Stars' Richard Harrison honored at memorial service
A memorial service was conducted for Richard "Old Man" Harrison at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
UNLV professor cautions dangers of distracted walking
An alarming number of adults do not cross the street safely according to a study conducted by professor Tim Bungum of the School of Community Health Sciences at the UNLV. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas-Review Journal) @brokejournalist
Car left in remote desert 21 years is recovered for late owner's children
Showboat casino blackjack dealer Mark Blackburn died outside of White Hills, Ariz. 21 years ago. His 1980 Datsun B310 wagon remained in the remote desert until a network of volunteers recovered the car for his children. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Resort on Mount Charleston Sold for $4.8 million
North Carolina couple and hoteliers Deanna and Colin Crossman have purchased the Resort on Mount Charleston for $4.8 million. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic stop turns into officer-involved shooting
Las Vegas police are investigating after an officer fired a shot at a suspect fleeing a traffic stop early Friday morning. The officer tried to pull over a black Dodge Durango with license plates that belonged to a different vehicle. The driver took off northbound on Lamb Boulevard and at one point crossed into the southbound lanes. A man got out of the car and fled on foot. During the chase, the officer saw something in the man’s hand and fired a single shot, police said. The man wasn’t injured and was later taken into custody. Police could not confirm if the man had a weapon when he was arrested. This is the 9th officer involved shooting of 2018. Per police policy, the identity of the officer will be released after 48 hours. 01:05
5 Dead in Shooting at Capital Gazette Newspaper in Maryland
5 Dead in Shooting at Capital Gazette Newspaper in Maryland Five people have been killed and two have been injured in a "targeted attack" at the newspaper, which is owned by the Baltimore Sun. Anne Arundel County deputy police chief Bill Krampf said the suspected gunman entered the building with a shotgun and walked through the lower level of the building, where the newspaper is housed. According to Krampf, the suspect "possibly" had a connection to the paper through social media. The suspect was identified as Jarrod Warren Ramos. Ramos filed a defamation claim in 2012 against the paper but the case was dismissed. He is currently in custody. President Trump was briefed on the events.
The Right Take: Why is CCSD out of money?
Nevada’s education establishment hopes you’re bad at history. Otherwise, you’ll identify what’s missing in its push for more funding.
Nevada Politics Today: Thomas Jipping
Nevada Politics Today video host Victor Joecks talks with Senior legal fellow at Heritage Foundation, Thomas Jipping.
The Right Take: Clark County residents love illegal fireworks
If you were here last Wednesday, you saw, heard or felt some of the tens of thousands of illegal fireworks set off in the Vegas Valley.
Heller speaks during an interview with the RJ
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., speaks during an interview with the Las Vegas-Review-Journal
Nevada Politics Today: Hardeep “Dee” Sull
Nevada Politics Today video host Victor Joecks sits down with Hardeep Sull to discuss immigration and the border wall.
The Right Take: Teachers can leave union from July 1-15
Nevada is a right-to-work state so teachers don’t have to join the Clark County Education Association. If they do join, however, they can only leave by submitting written notice to the union between July 1 and 15. Support staffers and education employees throughout Nevada have the same opt-out window.
Donald Trump Speaks At The Nevada Republican Party State Convention
President Donald Trump speaks at the Nevada Republican Party State Convention at the Suncoast Station.
The Right Take: Democrats Care More About Politics Than Immigrant Families
Democrats are already positioning themselves to vote down a law that would stop the separation of illegal immigrant parents and children. Remember this the next time you see liberals compare President Donald Trump and his administration to Nazis on this issue.
Nevada Politics Today: Dan Hart
Nevada Politics Today video host Victor Joecks sits down with political consultant, Dan Hart.
Nevada Primaries: Congressional Races
Review-Journal Political reporter Ramona Giwargis goes over the election night primary results for the congressional races.
The Right Take: Rosen lied about getting a degree in computers
Two weeks ago Sen. Dean Heller’s campaign released video evidence that Rep. Jacky Rosen lied about her resume. The media couldn’t care less.
Nevada Politics Today: Zac Moyle
Nevada Politics Today video host Victor Joecks sits down with political consultant, Zac Moyle to discuss the 2018 primary election results.
Debra Saunders reports from Singapore
Las Vegas Review-Journal White House correspondent talks about the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.
Nevada Primaries: Governor Races
Review-Journal Political reporter Colton Lochhead goes over the election night primary results for the Governor races.
Election Night: Polls Close At 7 p.m.
Review-Journal political reporter Ramona Giwargis goes over what to expect from the Nevada primaries.
Kim Jong Un visits Marina Bay Sands in Singapore
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his entourage visited the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore briefly Monday night, local time. (Video by Philip Chope)
The Right Take: Transgender regulations are radical and one-sided
Despite months of parental and student opposition, the regulations are radical and one-sided. Under the proposal, which Trustees will vote on Thursday, students get to pick their own gender identity and which locker rooms to change in.
Nevada Races Full of Women From Both Sides
It's already been a historic election season for women in politics. Record numbers of women are running for political office all over the country - including Nevada. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The Right Take: Tax Cuts Boosted Rosen's Staffs Pay
In February, the campaign team of Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Jacky Rosen saw a pay bump thanks to the Republican tax plan.
Nevada Politics Today: Dan Rodimer
Nevada Politics Today host Victor Joecks sits down with Republican candidate for Senate District 8, Dan Rodimer.
Nevada Politics Today: Dan Rodimer
Nevada Politics Today host Victor Joecks sits down with Republican candidate for Senate District 8, Dan Rodimer.
The Right Take: To fix CCSD start in Carson City
State government has created the collective bargaining laws that have put the district on the brink of financial insolvency. Here are three ways to fix that.
The Right Take: Kids claim to be concerned about budget cuts
Ryan was one of six students Wednesday supposedly upset about budget cuts. Be real. Adults — be they parents, teachers or union officials — turned these kids into human shields and media props.
Nevada Politics Today: Bryce Henderson
Nevada Politics Today video host Victor Joecks sits down with Democrat candidate for Senate District 10, Bryce Henderson.
The Right Take: Trump calls MS-13 members 'animals'
Last week, President Donald Trump hosted a summit with California law enforcement officers to discuss the dangers the state’s “sanctuary” policies. During Q&A, Fresno County sheriff Margaret Mims worried about the sanctuary law preventing her from telling federal officials that she had a MS-13 gang member in custody.
The Right Take: 3 questions Sisolak, Chris G. won't answer
Consider Democrat gubernatorial frontrunners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani. Guns and education have been major campaign themes. Yet neither candidates will provide basic information about their policies, despite my requests.
Nevada Politics Today: CD3 GOP Candidates Debate
Victor Joecks moderates a debate with the three Republican candidates for Nevada's 3rd Congressional District 3. Candidates are Danny Tarkanian, Sen. Scott Hammond and Michelle Mortensen.
Nevada Politics Today: Allison Stephens
Victor Joecks sits down with candidate for CD4, Allison Stephens.
The Right Take: Hogg is wrong about Question 1
Victor Joecks talks about the errors David Hogg made in a recent tweet.
The Right Take: Student accused teacher of kicking, yanking him
Jayden Zelaya-Ramos is a fifth-grade student at George E. Harris Elementary School. That’s where he says Jason Wright, husband of school board president Deanna Wright, kicked and yanked him in early March.
The Right Take: Trustees call for a special session
Victor Joecks talks about a special session about teacher pay raises.
The Right Take: Three things to know about CCSD's next superintendent
Victor Joecks talks about things to know about CCSD's next superintendent.
Nevada Politics Today: Craig Mueller
Las Vegas Review-Journal's Victor Joecks sits down with Republican candidate for Attorney General, Craig Mueller and discusses his position on crime in Nevada.
The Right Take: Rosen attended fundraiser hosted by Jane Fonda
Last Friday, Rosen attended a fundraiser hosted by Jane Fonda and other Hollywood elites. Yes, that’s the same Jane Fonda that Vietnam War veterans call “Hanoi Jane” for smiling while sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun.
The Right Take: Registrar has admitted to 175 mistakes
Victor Joecks talks about the Clark County Registrar’s office struggling to keep its numbers straight.
Las Vegas judge’s ruling will halt tonight’s execution
On Wednesday Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez issued a ruling that will halt the execution of convicted murderer Scott Dozier. Alvogen Inc., which makes the sedative midazolam, filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the Nevada Department of Corrections of surreptitiously obtaining the drug for use in an execution.
3 people shot in southeast Las Vegas
Three men were shot Thursday night in southeast Las Vegas, and two of them have life threatening injuries. Las Vegas police responded to the incident just after 10 p.m. on the 5000 block of Mountain Vista Street. The investigation is in its early stages and police were unable to describe the suspect or say how man people they think were involved. Police encourage anyone with information regarding this shooting to call Crime Stoppers at 702-385-5555, or 3-1-1
Robbery suspects apprehended
Four robbery suspects were taken into custody Thursday morning after a vehicle and foot chase that ended in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. The incident began when a person was robbed at gunpoint around 4:45 a.m. near Maryland Parkway and Desert Inn. Officers arriving at the scene tried to stop two vehicles. One vehicle escaped but police chased the second into a neighborhood on Flamingo Road near Mountain Vista Street. Police surrounded the neighborhood and the suspects were apprehended. It looked like one police vehicle was involved in a collision with the suspects' car. One woman suffered an unknown injury and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. 01:04
Las Vegas police looking for robbery suspects
Two robbers who recently targeted three Las Vegas businesses remained at large Tuesday and police are asking the public to help identify them. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser gives update of officer-involved shooting
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser provides an update about an officer-involved shooting at Radwick Drive and Owens Avenue in the northeast Las Vegas on Thursday. A robbery suspect was shot and killed. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
LVMPD Looking For Robbery Suspect
The LVMPD Commercial Robbery Section is attempting to identify the pictured suspect who is responsible for committing robberies to businesses in the southern part of the Las Vegas Valley during the month of May 2018. The suspect enters the business, threatens the employee with a firearm and demands money from the register. The employee complies and the suspect flees the business.
North Las Vegas police are investigating a triple shooting that left one man dead
North Las Vegas police are investigating a triple shooting that left one man dead at 2500 block of Ellis St., on Friday, June 8, 2018. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
1 dead in shooting at southwest Las Vegas home
A dispute between roommates led to the fatal shooting of one man in the backyard of their southwest Las Vegas Valley home on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bump stock manufacturers under fire
The Justice Department said last month that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to clarify that federal law defines bump stocks as machine guns.
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like