Las Vegas Sun

September 26, 2022

Currently: 108° — Complete forecast

Tributes recall slain Las Vegas reporter’s sense for hunting scandal

Those who knew longtime Las Vegas investigative journalist Jeff German already understood he was a tenacious reporter with a keen eye for detail and a knack for getting to the bottom of a scandal.

Memorials

The family of investigative reporter Jeff German suggests donations in his name to the Three Square food bank. German was passionate about the group’s mission to feed the needy in Las Vegas. Donations can be made online at: https://secure.threesquare.org/campaign/donate-in-memory-of-jeff-german/c427975

That much was made clear over his career, which spanned four decades and included 20-plus years at the Sun, and the last 12 at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Click to enlarge photo

Jeff German

But even for those who knew him only by his bylines, German symbolized the essence of journalism: Someone who held those in power to account and gave a voice to the voiceless. That’s why news of his slaying earlier this month made national headlines and shocked fellow scribes and First Amendment activists.

“It just seemed like Jeff was the kind of person that was not going to be stopped from uncovering the truth,” said Rebecca Aguilar, president of the Society for Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest organization of journalists that promotes free speech and ethical behavior.

“One of the things I read about Jeff, he had courage. And that’s an essential part of journalism. You have to have compassion. He had compassion for people who said nobody was listening to them, and he continued to move forward. He had a commitment to journalism.”

Aguilar was one of the many First Amendment advocates and public officials who told the Sun they were deeply troubled by the death of German, who died Sept. 2 from “multiple sharp force injuries” after an altercation outside his home led to the fatal stabbing. He was 69.

Metro Police on Wednesday arrested Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, 45, on one count of open murder hours after searching the elected official’s home in the northwest valley. Detectives were able to link DNA at the crime scene to Telles, who they said was confronting German over reporting he was the subject of. The county public administrator deals with the area’s probate estates after a resident dies.

German had written a series of reports alleging a hostile work environment at the county public administrator’s office, as well as an inappropriate report Telles had with a subordinate. Telles denied the allegations and had vented frustrations with German and his reporting on Twitter.

After the stories were published, Telles placed third in the June’s Democratic primary and became a lame duck officeholder.

German was reporting on another story about Telles when he was killed, police said.

Investigators on Monday released surveillance footage taken in German’s neighborhood showing a suspect wearing a straw hat, a bright orange construction shirt, gloves and gray sneakers. Detectives were able to link the suspect to a maroon GMC Yukon SUV.

A search of Telles’ home early Wednesday yielded a cut up hat and bloodied sneakers, similar to those worn by the suspect, police said. Police also were able to confirm a similar GMC was owned by Telles’ wife.

Telles is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Las Vegas Justice Court, according to his online case file. There, he likely will be formally charged with open murder, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said in a news conference Thursday after Telles’ first court appearance.

The homicide investigation was already unique because of who German was, Wolfson said, who added that he was unsure whether his office would pursue the death penalty against Telles.

“The decision won’t be made for months, if at all,” Wolfson said.

A Clark County spokesperson said the county was reviewing its options regarding Telles’ continued status as the elected public administrator. The spokesman added atht public administrator employees would work from home until either a new official is appointed or voted in after November’s election.

Public reaction

Nevada politicians from both sides of the aisle disavowed the slaying, saying the prospect of an elected official killing a reporter over their work was “horrific.”

In a statement to the Sun, Gov. Steve Sisolak said he knew German for many years. Sisolak called him a tenacious reporter who always searched for tough stories.

“He didn’t rest until he asked his questions and got his answers,” Sisolak said. “They don’t make a lot of journalists like him anymore. It’s a real tragedy to see this happen in our community … no matter who is responsible — elected official or not — they should be held accountable for their actions, and we hope the family will be able to begin the mourning process.”

Sisolak’s gubernatorial rival, Republican and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, expressed similar sentiment at a Metro Police news conference Thursday, but declined to speak further on the issue.

“When people take it upon themselves to create harm associated with that profession, I think it’s very important to put all eyes on and address the case appropriately, such as we (Metro) did in this case,”Lombardo said Thursday in a Metro news conference detailing Telles’ arrest.

Aaron Ford, Nevada’s attorney general and chief law enforcement officer, called the accusation against Telles “deeply disturbing” and noted German worked with “the deepest concern for his craft.”

“If the accusations are true, not only was this an appalling murder, but it was also a deep breach of the public’s trust.”

Republican Adam Laxalt, who’s running to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, said in a statement “the ability to exercise First Amendment rights is under threat in America like never before,” and that “journalists reporting facts and citizens voicing opinions should never lead to silencing, intimidation or violence. Our thoughts are with Jeff German’s colleagues, friends and loved ones during this shocking and difficult time.”

Citing the pending charges against Telles, Cortez Masto’s office declined to comment on the specific allegations, but she took to Twitter to say “Nevada law enforcement will deliver justice for the murder of Jeff German.”

Democrat Jackie Rosen, Nevada’s junior U.S. senator, said “any type of violence against journalists is completely unacceptable, and I appreciate the quick work of law enforcement to pursue justice.”

Nevada’s U.S. House of Representatives delegation echoed a similar sentiment, with Democratic Rep. Susie Lee telling the Sun, “Telles should obviously be held to the highest (form of) accountability for this.”

“I just think it’s a really sad day for journalism,” Lee said. “We should protect our press and make sure that we do whatever we can so there’s no retribution for reporting the truth.”

As the U.S. grips with an uptick in threats against public officials, they are the ones most likely to be facing violence, not the ones doing the killing, U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas said.

“But if journalists such as Jeff German cannot investigate and report on the actions of public officials without fearing for their lives, we are in danger of losing a cornerstone of American democracy: a free press,” Titus said in a statement.

Tracking violence

Prior to German’s slaying, eight journalists had been murdered in the U.S. since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes press freedom globally, according to its website. That’s when the collective started tracking data.

German’s death will add to that toll, as it appears likely the group will classify his death a confirmed murder, spokesperson Radim Dragomaca said.

He would be the first journalist killed because of his job since 2018 when four journalists were killed (as well as another sales employee) at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., after a disgruntled gunman entered their newsroom and opened fire.

“I think it’s shocking to many of us because it happened here in the United States,” Aguilar said. “You go to Mexico, and it’s something that happens frequently. How many times have we heard about a Mexican journalist seeking the truth and they’re murdered? Sometimes it’s right outside their home. Just like Jeff.”

In the event of violence against a colleague or when facing the fallout of covering a traumatic event, Aguilar said news organizations across the U.S. should take steps to alleviate the stress and anxiety that comes with burnout.

That could come in many forms, Aguilar said, whether it be by providing counseling, other mental health resources or simply just allowing the newsroom to be a place to safely discuss work practices.

“Whether you’re a reporter, photographer or editor, journalists should have a safe place where they can be able to talk freely and openly about how they feel. Every newsroom should be a tool,” Aguilar said. “If we don’t help journalists survive and thrive, then in the end, not only do we lose out in the journalism world but the public loses out because we’re the only people they depend on when nobody listens to them.”

That support can also come from readers, Aguilar said.

“I hope the public realizes that there are many people like Jeff out there today, doing this job to make things better in this world,” she said. “And I hope the public realizes we need their support.”

Speaking to reporters after Telles made his initial court appearance Thursday, Wolfson was asked by a reporter if he was worried German’s homicide could potentially spark violent outbursts against other journalists, here or across the country.

Wolfson rejected that theory. While disheartening, Wolfson said, German’s death is not the first of its kind. He alluded to an incident in 2015 in which a television reporter and cameraman in Virginia were fatally shot while shooting a live segment in the field.

“When someone is violent against a journalist, that takes on a special flair,” Wolfson said. “But this is not the first of its kind. … We’re dealing with human beings, and human beings sometimes act irrationally out of desperation.”