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VICTOR JOECKS: Sisolak’s cover-ups put Nevadans in danger

The Sisolak administration seems to have taken its crisis management strategy from a 2-year-old: Close your eyes and hope no one notices.

The latest example is the prison escape of Porfirio Duarte-Herrera, the Luxor bomber and convicted murderer. He was unaccounted for on Sept. 23. But the public didn’t find out that he had escaped until Tuesday when “8 News Now” broke the story. Only then did state officials acknowledge a murderer was on the loose.

It’s a good thing they did. The Metropolitan Police Department arrested Duarte-Herrara on Wednesday night. He was trying to take a bus to Mexico when an alert employee spotted him and called the authorities. That heroic action wouldn’t have been possible if the public hadn’t learned about what had happened.

As an aside, this is why it’s so important that media organizations be able to shield sources. If Department of Corrections officials found out who tipped the media off about the escape, that person would likely be in deep trouble. If the tipster thought his or her identity could be revealed, it’s less likely he or she would have passed on the information. But if the public never learned about the incident, it’s highly unlikely this murderer would have been arrested Wednesday.

This isn’t the first time the Sisolak administration sat on a major scandal until the media broke the story. In October 2021, state regulators agreed to fast-track approval for Northshore Clinical Labs after pressure from Gov. Steve Sisolak’s staff. The company offered coronavirus tests. As Nevadans would learn months later, its laboratory tests had a 96 percent error rate in identifying positive cases. That is, the company told people infected with the coronavirus that they didn’t have it.

The company didn’t stop offering those tests until January of this year. Nevadans didn’t find out until ProPublica published its exposé in May.

Now, no governor is responsible for every bad thing that happens during his administration. State bureaucracies are large and unwieldy even in the best of times. But a governor is responsible if he covers it up. That appears to be Sisolak’s default response to significant problems.

The political motivation for this approach is obvious. Keeping things hush-hush improves Sisolak’s chances of winning re-election. It’s easy for voters to connect the guy in charge with an escaped murderer and faulty testing company his staff advocated for. Those kinds of scandals can hurt a politician’s approval rating, especially during a heated campaign.

But by sitting on the truth, Sisolak and his administration put Nevadans in danger. The risk of a convicted murderer walking the streets is obvious. Presumably, someone relied on a negative coronavirus test from Northshore to visit an elderly relative. That may have led to a potentially deadly COVID infection.

At this point, Nevadans are right to wonder: What else is Sisolak not telling us?

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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