EDITORIAL: NLV should have handed off Lee probe at start

The idea that an elected official can be impartially investigated by a police agency overseen by that official is ridiculous. It’s such an obvious conflict of interest that any in-house criminal inquiry is a waste of time and resources. An outside agency immune from political pressure must be brought in to ensure independence and protect the integrity of whatever case is built.

On Tuesday, the Review-Journal’s Colton Lochhead and Wesley Juhl reported that North Las Vegas police are doing what they should have done in October: having the Federal Bureau of Investigation examine whether Mayor John Lee had child pornography on his personal iPad and, if he did, whether he broke the law.

Last week, the Review-Journal’s Bethany Barnes broke the story of the North Las Vegas police investigation. Tellingly, Police Chief Joseph Chronister revealed the details of the case on May 7 — the day he retired. That he didn’t come forward in the fall, when the investigation was quickly closed — when he answered to Mayor Lee and the rest of the City Council — said everything.

“We’re talking about the mayor of North Las Vegas,” Mr. Chronister said. “He is a person of authority. He is a person of power. He absolutely has the ability to control certain aspects of our department.”

Mr. Chronister’s statement also explains why police did not immediately seek outside help on a case that raises deeply troubling questions about Mayor Lee’s character and judgment.

Mr. Chronister said Mayor Lee “grabbed” a police officer in City Hall on Oct. 9 and said “he had an issue with kiddie porn popping up on his computer.” A few days later, when a detective contacted Mayor Lee, the mayor said he had received an email that brought up images he thought were child pornography and that he wanted them erased.

In his report, Detective Mark Hoyt said he downloaded everything on the mayor’s iPad onto an FBI-owned computer and could not find the email the mayor described. Instead, he found links to three pornographic websites on the iPad’s browser history, one of which displayed pornography organized by country of origin. “I did locate several possible photos that could be considered child porno­graphy, but since they were in a different country, I could not verify the age of the people pictured,” the detective wrote. Unable to prove the content illegal, Mr. Hoyt had the iPad erased at an Apple store and returned the device to the mayor.

The mayor says he did not approach an officer and instead had his assistant call police. He says he wanted police to determine the email’s sender, “people who were doing evil to children.” But Mr. Hoyt couldn’t find that email, and the mayor’s story doesn’t explain the iPad browser’s multiple pornography links.

Either North Las Vegas has the most honest mayor in America or someone with little understanding of personal electronics and the law. Possessing child pornography is a felony. Regardless, a typical North Las Vegas resident would not have received such consideration — because a typical North Las Vegas resident doesn’t oversee police.

“You know, we serve a difficult role in law enforcement. We have elected officials that we depend upon to provide to us resources, funding and things like that,” Mr. Chronister said, further undermining his department’s case.

“I absolutely believe if this detective would have felt that there were potentially other victims or more material that he definitely would have went in that direction after it,” the retired chief said, adding that if “there should have been a more thorough and in-depth investigation, then I guess that’s my fault.”

No. The department shouldn’t have pursued the case at all. Another police force should have been given the case from the start.

Hopefully, the FBI can review the downloaded data from the mayor’s iPad. If the data provide agents with probable cause, they should examine the mayor’s other electronic devices, too. And if Mayor Lee is cleared by the FBI, the decision will have far more credibility than a North Las Vegas police determination that never should have been made in the first place.

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