Las Vegas Sun

October 24, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: JUSTICE:

Conditions at jail ‘harsh,’ but court can’t change them

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Steve Marcus

Detention Officer Tyrone Bentley unlocks food flaps in cell doors during lunchtime at the North Las Vegas Detention Center.

A federal magistrate has concluded that conditions at the North Las Vegas jail are “admittedly harsh.”

But Magistrate Peggy Leen said in a series of written opinions last week that she has no authority to order the relief sought by some of the jailed defendants in the Aryan Warriors federal racketeering case.

Leen suggested the complaining defendants — all in administrative segregation at the jail and linked to the white supremacist prison gang — would have a better chance of improving conditions if they filed civil rights lawsuits against the North Las Vegas Police Department, which runs the jail.

Leen said she agreed to examine the treatment of the inmates, most of whom authorities regard as dangerous, “because the number and frequency of (their) complaints throughout this case raise serious concerns about the integrity of this criminal prosecution.” Leen reportedly toured the jail last week.

But she ultimately concluded that the tough conditions were not interfering with the ability of the defendants to meet with their attorneys and prepare their defenses, which was her biggest concern.

The Aryan Warrior defendants complained about being in lockdown for as much as 23 1/2 hours a day, always shackled in chains, even when taking a shower or making a phone call, and rarely being allowed to see daylight and breathe fresh air.

The extreme conditions at the jail could extend to less dangerous inmates not tied to the Aryan Warriors, Leen said. Of the jail’s 850 inmates, about 100 are in administrative segregation, she said.

The majority of federal detainees awaiting trial in Southern Nevada, about 300 inmates, are housed at the North Las Vegas Detention Center under an agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service.

Conditions there have come under fire from defense lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada for years.

•••

District Judge Jennifer Togliatti has awarded Las Vegas golf course developer Billy Walters a $9 million judgment against the owner of a large Arizona-based Internet company he alleged had defamed him.

Walters charged in a 2006 lawsuit that Robert Lewis, a Flagstaff businessman who runs Travel Golf Media Inc., had falsely disparaged him and two of his golf courses, Stallion Mountain and Desert Pines, on the Internet after he refused to sign a new agreement to promote the courses on the company’s many Web sites.

The new contract, the suit alleged, required Walters to pay three times the promotional fees he had been paying Travel Golf Media.

Lewis published a series of posts with critical reviews and unflattering photos of the golf courses over two months in the spring of 2005, the suit alleged.

Walters’ lead lawyer, James Pisanelli, argued that the defamatory statements had caused Walters emotional distress and injured his personal reputation.

•••

It’s been more than 18 months — and still counting.

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto isn’t expected to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki until after the Nov. 4 election.

That’s probably a prudent decision, even though the investigation has lasted far longer than anyone imagined.

Not only is Krolicki a potential Republican opponent of Cortez Masto’s in a race for governor, he is chairman of the McCain-Palin presidential campaign in Nevada.

Critics of the Democratic attorney general will have a tougher time accusing her of playing politics with the investigation after the election.

Cortez Masto opened the criminal investigation 18 months ago to determine whether Krolicki unlawfully destroyed office records in his final days as state treasurer.

But as the probe dragged on, there were rumblings additional allegations of wrongdoing had come to the attorney general’s attention. Krolicki has denied any wrongdoing.

Jeff German is the sun’s senior investigative reporter.

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