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AG chides officials on public records

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By David Giuliani

The Las Vegas Police Department appears to have violated the state’s public records law by failing to respond promptly to a request for a police report on a fire, the state attorney general’s office says.

On Nov. 3, 2008, resident Shaun McEllin filed a request to inspect public records in relation to a car fire at Mike’s Body and Paint, 513 Railroad Ave., which happened two days before.

Under state law, the city was supposed to provide the documents within three days or give a written explanation about when the records would become available. The law requires that documents be unveiled within 15 days of a written request.

The attorney general’s office couldn’t find any documentation that the city gave McEllin an explanation during the three days — a violation of the state Inspection of Public Records Act, Assistant Attorney General Mary Smith said in an Oct. 20 letter to the city.

If a public entity rejects a written request, it must do so in writing and include a specific explanation under state law.

The AG’s letter indicates that the city later explained that it withheld the documents because of a homicide investigation. The city contended that an employee told McEllin the records were not “releasable.” But the state couldn’t find any written confirmation of this — another violation of state law, Smith contended.

The AG’s office noted that the city admitted it hadn’t posted a written notice about the public’s right to inspect records at either City Hall or the Police Department, which violates state law.

The city later released the report to McEllin, which resolved his complaint, Smith said.

McEllin said he didn’t get the documents until after he filed a complaint with the attorney general months later.

“The city gave me the runaround. They violated my rights,” he said.

He said the city connected the car fire to a homicide investigation.
Officials believed Maria “Esther” Bartee-Ortega, who is accused of murder, was responsible for the Railroad Avenue fire. The same night in November 2008, she allegedly set a fire to a house on Douglas Avenue that killed a woman.

City Attorney Dave Romero said he hadn’t seen the letter from the attorney general.