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EDITORIAL: Taxpayers foot the bill for sheriff’s flouting of the law

Sheriff Joe Lombardo is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination and running a primary campaign with a heavy emphasis on gun rights and tough-on-crime rhetoric. Noticeably absent from his website is any mention of fiscal responsibility or the importance of open government.

Perhaps that’s no accident.

On Monday, the Metropolitan Police Committee on Fiscal Affairs approved a $250,000 payment to the Review-Journal stemming from the newspapers’s lawsuit over Metro’s reluctance to release reports, video and audio connected to the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting on the Strip.

The Review-Journal was forced into court in January 2018 when the department — with Mr. Lombardo at the helm — refused to make public officer body camera footage and 911 calls related to the mass murder that left 60 dead and hundreds injured. District Court Judge Richard Scotti eventually ruled that the law enforcement agency was obligated to produce the information and could not charge unreasonable fees for providing it.

Metro responded with foot dragging and requested that a new judge review the case. But before District Court Judge Stefany Miley could take up the matter, Metro withdrew the motion for reconsideration and asked the state Supreme Court to step in. Two weeks later, the justices ordered Mr. Lombardo’s department to comply with the law. After more delays, the high court denied an agency request for a stay.

It then took Metro about two months to release most of the documents. Yet body camera footage — which was heavily redacted — wasn’t made public for nine months. The settlement reached Monday ends further litigation to determine appropriate compensation for Metro’s recalcitrance.

Yet nobody at the department, including a sheriff who is supposed to show respect for the law, will bear any consequences for ignoring state public records statutes. Instead, once again, officials at a taxpayer-funded government agency who used public funds in an effort to keep those very same taxpayers in the dark will be free to reach into taxpayer pockets to cover the costs of their own mistakes.

“Public records requests should never result in the kind of prolonged litigation the Review-Journal had to initiate against Metro,” Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said. “The public ends up paying the price twice, first through needless delays in the release of the information, then getting stuck with the legal costs of winning that release.”

If ever a case highlighted the need for strengthening state open records law to hold officials personally responsible for willful violations, this is it. In the meantime, Mr. Lombardo should explain to voters why he chose to roll the dice with taxpayer funds and why his department so often prefers darkness to government accountability.

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