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A slain Las Vegas reporter is remembered as a fair but dogged journalist

Jeff German on the Strip in Las Vegas on June 2, 2021. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Jeff German on the Strip in Las Vegas on June 2, 2021. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

In Jeff German's newsroom, his Las Vegas Review-Journal colleagues have set up an impromptu memorial in his cubicle. On his desk are flowers, a reporter's notepad and a toy football — he loved fantasy football. Also, one of his front page stories, framed.

The story is the first one he wrote with colleague Art Kane about lavish spending and misuse of tax dollars at the at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The stories led to felony charges for the Authority's executive director in 2019, and it's alleged that they led to German's death.

A city in shock

The developments of the past week have left Las Vegas shocked. German was found stabbed to death outside his home last Saturday. On Wednesday evening, police announced they had arrested an elected official, Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, on suspicion of killing German.

Telles is being held without bail. At his first court appearance on Thursday, prosecutors laid out the evidencethat he had "cased" German's home before the crime, and then stabbed him seven times.

Prosecutors allege Telles killed German for writing negative stories about his office, and that he believed he lost the recent Democratic primary "as a direct result of the articles highlighting misfunctioning of office and an illicit relationship."

The reality is difficult for his former colleagues. But they want people to know about German, about his journalism and what he stood for.

A dogged reporter

Art Kane recalls German as an old-school veteran who knew everybody. "Phone to the ear, getting secret sources, meeting them in bars," he says.

And once German was on a story, he wouldn't let go — such as with that convention bureau series.

"At some point I moved on to other things," Kane says. "But Jeff — Jeff, like a bulldog, just bit into it and followed it to the end. He probably wrote 100 stories by the time everything was over."

Politicians reflected on the loss, too.

"I miss him already," says Tom Letizia, a political consultant who's known German for about forty years. He says sometimes German wrote articles or columns that irritated him — or went after his political clients — but there was no doubting German's importance.

"I know there are a lot of public figures that were afraid when Jeff German would call them. Because this is a guy who was going to ask the tough questions," he says. "And they either ran from him — didn't take the call — or took the call and dealt with the circumstances that prevailed afterwards."

City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman says she never feared German's calls — because she said she trusted him to be fair — if tough. But as soon as she heard he'd been killed, she figured it was about his work.

"I really suspected that it was some kind of hit, just due to the nature of him really being aggressive and making sure he gets stories out and the facts," she says. "It's been shocking for everyone in Las Vegas."

Free speech under threat?

It's worried people outside of Las Vegas, too. When news broke, free speech groups took notice. Nadine Farid Johnson is managing director of PEN-America Washington. She calls the possibility that a public official killed a reporter "deeply disturbing," in part because of what she regards as the recent increase of abuse of journalists online.

"Now this has come into the physical realm, and resulted in someone's murder, it really undermines the work of the free press, and it's creating a risk factor for many journalists, and that's quite worrisome," Johnson says.

The Review-Journal's Art Kane says he and German were accustomed to some people's anger over their reporting — at one point, he says German was punched by a professional boxer in a bar. But they didn't seriously consider the possibility of being killed.

"I think until now we just figured that nobody would be that stupid and brazen," Kane says. "But it's in the back of your mind, right?"

Kane is not inclined to see the death of his friend as part of a broader anti-journalism trend in America. He sees this as an isolated incident.

"From talking to Jeff, from reading his stories, and from understanding this guy's [Telles'] background, he was just a bully that didn't like being challenged," Kane says. "And he would always push back in completely inappropriate ways."

Kane's reporting partner is now gone. And the subject of their work is in jail. Telles is expected to formally be charged with murder next week.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.