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City official arrested in stabbing death of Las Vegas investigative journalist

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Las Vegas police say they've arrested a local elected official suspected of killing a newspaper reporter who'd written critical stories about him. NPR's Martin Kaste is covering this story from Las Vegas. Hey there.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Hey.

SHAPIRO: What do you know about the suspect?

KASTE: Well, the man they arrested last night is named Robert Telles. He's the Clark County public administrator here in Las Vegas. That means it's an elected office, and what it does is it handles the assets and the estates of people who've died. And Telles intended to run for re-election this fall, but he can't because he lost the Democratic primary. And that election loss followed critical newspaper stories about him in - that were written by the man who was found dead last Saturday, Jeff German, who worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

SHAPIRO: And do police believe that this killing was retaliation for that negative coverage?

KASTE: Well, that's the theory they presented today at a press conference. Here's Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department homicide Captain Don Koren (ph) - Dori Koren.

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DORI KOREN: Well, Telles was upset about articles that were being written by German as an investigative journalist that exposed potential wrongdoing. And Telles had publicly expressed his issues with that reporting, and then ultimately Telles was also upset - from what we found out later - that there was additional reporting that was pending.

KASTE: Now, those stories had laid out accusations that there was a troubled atmosphere at the office that Telles ran. Some employees blamed what they said was an inappropriate relationship between Telles and a female subordinate. And as Koren said there, German was still digging into the story when he was killed.

SHAPIRO: Tensions between public officials and journalists are not unusual, but for those tensions to escalate to a killing is extraordinary. What can you tell us about the crime itself?

KASTE: Well, the police say Jeff German was found outside his homes on Saturday, stabbed to death. He's a well-known investigative reporter in the city. He's got a 30-year track record writing about organized crime, problems in local government, that kind of thing. And police made this investigation a high priority because of that, looking for people who might be angry about his reporting. And they got information about a maroon SUV that had been seen driving through that neighborhood kind of suspiciously, an SUV that looked like one that Telles drove. They also had a video of a person walking through the area wearing a very broad-brimmed hat and an orange reflective shirt, sort of looked like he was trying to conceal his identity, whoever that was. They got a warrant for Telles' home, and they found a straw hat similar to that one. It had been all cut up, though. And they also found shoes that they say have traces of the victim's DNA.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned that the police department made this investigation a priority. There are so many unsolved murders in the country right now. Did police say why they put the effort in to solve this one in particular?

KASTE: Well, the sheriff here, Joseph Lombardo, talked a bit about that this morning, about how he saw the significance of this case. Here's how he put it.

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JOSEPH LOMBARDO: It is troublesome because it is a journalist, and we expect journalism to be open and transparent and the watchdog for government. And when people take it upon themselves to create harm associated with that profession, I think it's very important that we put all eyes on and address the case appropriately.

KASTE: And I'll add here that the city and state officials here, even members of Congress, have been expressing shock about the situation, about the death of this reporter. At the newspaper, they're still reeling. I also talked today to Art Kane. He's another reporter who has collaborated in the past with German, also an investigative reporter. He says he's never heard of this kind of violence against a reporter in this area. And he told me, quote, that it sounded - this is his words - it sounds like something that would happen in Russia.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Martin Kaste reporting from Las Vegas. Thank you.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.