Jeff German, an investigative reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was found dead with multiple stab wounds outside his home on Sept. 3, 2022. Since his killing, German’s colleagues have been embroiled in a legal battle with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to protect his confidential sources.
Robert Telles, a former public administrator of Clark County, was arrested by authorities on a murder charge days later. Las Vegas police said evidence showed he killed German in retaliation for stories the journalist was writing about him.
German’s case is entirely unprecedented, according to Glenn Cook, executive editor of the Review-Journal. “We believe, in modern history, that this is the first time a sitting, elected official has been arraigned for murdering a journalist,” Cook said at a Society of Professional Journalists panel on Thursday, Sept. 28.
It was later discovered that Metro executed a search warrant on German’s house and seized a cell phone and five computers he used for work. The Review-Journal was unaware items tied to his stories were taken.
Under the Reporter’s Shield Statute, journalists have the right to protect their confidential sources and information obtained from them. The statute exists in every state except Wyoming. Nevada has the strongest level of protection in the country, according to Ashley Kissinger, of counsel at Ballard Spahr, LLC.
After seizing German’s devices, Metro and the district attorney’s office wanted to search them for evidence in the case against Telles. Both assured the Review-Journal from the beginning that the sources would never be shared, but they backtracked on that position as the case progressed. “Our position from the start was that you can’t take their word for it,” Cook said.
German was “one of the highest-sourced reporters,” the Review-Journal’s Chief Legal Officer Benjamin Lipman said at SPJ. Most of his sources were confidential.
One of the Review-Journal’s biggest concerns was that many of German’s sources worked for Metro, the Clark County District Attorney’s office and Telles’ office. Lipman worried if their identities were revealed, they could be retaliated against or even lose their jobs.
The DA’s office claimed that, because German used his personal devices, the sources belonged to him personally as opposed to the Review-Journal. “They have taken on this absurd position that the rights died with Jeff,” Kissinger said.
Cook is concerned if the ruling is in favor of the DA and Metro, the case could have serious ramifications for other journalists. “The concern is the ripple effect this could have across the country,” he said.