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Official held in Vegas reporter killing facing loss of job

Deputy public defender David Lopez-Negrete, left, talks to Robert Telles in court during an arraignment hearing at the Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Telles is charged with murder in the stabbing death of Las Vegas investigative reporter Jeff German. (Wade Vandervort/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A local elected official got court-appointed attorneys during his arraignment Tuesday in the stabbing death of a Las Vegas investigative journalist who wrote articles critical of him and his managerial conduct.

Robert Richard Telles, the Clark County public administrator, also was hit with a lawsuit aimed at stripping him of his elected position heading the county office that handles the assets of people who die without a will or family contacts. Court action could take several weeks. Telles, 45, is a Democrat whose term ends Dec. 31.

In court, he stood with shackles on his wrists, waist and ankles while a Las Vegas judge told him he was charged with the “unlawful, senseless and heinous murder” on Sept. 2 of veteran Las Vegas Review-Journal staff writer Jeff German.

Telles spoke only to acknowledge that he understood the criminal charge. He was not told in court about the civil lawsuit, which Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson later described for reporters in a courthouse hallway.

It was not immediately clear if Telles had a lawyer representing him in that case. A court date was not immediately set.

“Mr. Telles has been in custody,” said Wolfson, also a Democrat. “He’s unable to perform his duties … so we’re seeking his removal from office.”

Clark County officials said following Telles’ arrest that he had been banned from county offices pending a review of his position as an elected official. He has remained on the county payroll.

In court, a judge scheduled an Oct. 26 hearing of evidence to determine if Telles should stand trial in state court on the murder charge. His plea would be entered at that time.

Wolfson has said he will determine in coming weeks whether Telles will face the death penalty. German was 69, and prosecutors added an age enhancement to the charge against Telles.

Edward Kane, a veteran deputy public defender now representing Telles in the murder case, told the judge that Telles would not immediately seek bail and that a determination would be made whether Telles can afford his own attorney.

Telles’ salary is about $120,000, with another $50,000 in benefits, according to records kept by the website Transparent Nevada.

Kane and colleague David Lopez-Negrete declined outside court to comment. The judge let attorney Travis Shetler withdraw from Telles’ case.

Telles no longer had bandages on his forearms on Tuesday. He was hospitalized briefly after his arrest for treatment of injuries to his arms that police at the time said were self-inflicted.

He is accused in a criminal complaint of “lying in wait” for German, who authorities say was stabbed seven times. German lived alone, and his body was found the following day.

Telles was arrested several days later, after police asked for public help to identify a person seen wearing an orange work shirt and a wide-brim straw hat toting a shoulder bag and walking toward German’s home on the morning of Sept. 2. Police also released images of a distinctive SUV seen near German’s home that was driven by a person wearing an orange shirt.

A Review-Journal photographer snapped photos Sept. 6 of Telles washing the same type of vehicle in his driveway.

Police allege that Telles shut off his cellphone and waited in a vehicle outside German’s home until the attack. It was characterized as a planned response to articles that German wrote about “turmoil and internal dissension” in Telles’ office.

Telles lost the Democratic party primary in June after articles in May aired claims of administrative bullying, favoritism and Telles’ relationship with a subordinate staffer. County lawmakers appointed a consultant to address complaints about leadership in his office.

German was widely respected for his tenacity, and his colleagues said he was working on follow-up reports about Telles and the public administrator’s office when he was killed.

A Las Vegas judge on Sept. 8 called the police report describing the attack “chilling” and said it described German “fighting for his life.” She spoke of apparent defense wounds on German’s arms and said DNA believed to be from Telles was found under German’s fingernails.

Police reported finding items at Telles’ home including blood-stained shoes and a straw hat that had been cut into pieces. They said they did not immediately find the weapon used to kill German.

Although police said security video showed Telles near German’s home, Wolfson said authorities do not have video showing the attack.

The Nevada Press Association has announced that German will be inducted this Saturday into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.

German joined the Review-Journal in 2010 after more than two decades at the rival Las Vegas Sun, where he was a columnist and reporter covering courts, politics, labor, government and organized crime.

Telles grew up in El Paso, Texas, and lived in Colorado before moving to Las Vegas. He worked as a heating and air conditioning technician and graduated in 2014 from law school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He practiced probate and estate law before he was elected public administrator in 2018, replacing a three-term predecessor.

Court and police records show that Robert Telles was arrested at home in Las Vegas during a domestic violence investigation in February 2020. He was accused of grabbing his wife in a “‘bear-hug’ position” and of resisting efforts by two police officers to handcuff him. During his arrest, Telles was recorded on police body-worn cameras acknowledging that he had been drinking alcohol and repeatedly identifying himself as a public official.

The case was dismissed and closed in March 2021 after Telles paid a $418 fine, attended counseling and stayed out of trouble.

In a jailhouse interview on Friday with the Review-Journal, Telles acknowledged “mistakes” including alcohol abuse and his 2020 arrest, but denied hurting his wife or children. He refused to answer questions about German’s killing.