Accused candidate for Nev. governor wins release of surveillance video: Rep. Jim Gibbons contends the tapes will exonerate him
LAS VEGAS (AP) – A judge has ordered police to release video surveillance tapes from the parking garage where a casino cocktail waitress claims a Nevada congressman running for governor assaulted and propositioned her.
“I think it’s important that Congressman Gibbons have the ability to have this evidence,” District Court Judge Douglas Herndon said Tuesday, before ordering Las Vegas police to release the video to lawyers for Rep. Jim Gibbons and his accuser.
Herndon said releasing the video would not compromise an ongoing criminal battery investigation into the accusation, and would not violate either parties’ privacy.
“It’s all been aired,” Herndon said, noting the back-to-back news conferences held last week by lawyers for Gibbons, a five-term Republican from Reno, and Chrissy Mazzeo, a cocktail waitress at the Bellagio casino-hotel.
Mazzeo, 32, says Gibbons, 61, pushed her up against a wall, held her arms and made a sexual advance in a parking garage near a bar where the two had been drinking with a group of people on the night of Oct. 13. Mazzeo withdrew the complaint the next day, but asked police to reopen the investigation Monday.
Gibbons denies her account. He says he was walking Mazzeo to the garage when she slipped less than 10 feet from the entrance. He caught her by her wrist, stood her up and walked away, Gibbons says.
Surveillance video from the garage surfaced late last week, more than a week after police had said none existed.
Initially, police said they asked a security guard about the video and were told the cameras were not working. Detectives did not make further inquiries because the case was closed when Mazzeo withdrew her complaint, Clark County Sheriff Bill Young has said.
However, police now say they contacted the garage owner last week and were told several hours of video existed.
The company that owns the garage, Crescent Real Estate Equities Company, turned the only copy of the tapes over to police, and said the congressman is not captured on the video, Gibbons’ lawyer Don Campbell told the court.
Police released a statement cautioning that detectives have reached no conclusion and had “only reviewed a limited portion of the video available.”
“There were approximately 25 different camera angles on two different tapes. Detectives still have many days of work left to do before it can be determined whether either of the subjects appear on the video,” police said.
Gibbons filed suit Monday to obtain the tapes that he says will exonerate him.
“I want these tapes released. I want my good name cleared,” he said.
Gibbons’ lawsuit said the allegations have damaged his campaign and turned people to vote for his opponent, Democrat Dina Titus.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Gower argued that it was against department policy to release evidence during criminal investigations. He said if the tapes were released Gibbons or Mazzeo could “tailor testimony or tailor statements” to conform to the video.
Herndon noted that both Mazzeo and Gibbons already had been interviewed at least once by police. He said the parties would change those statements “at their own risk” to their credibility if the case ever went to trial.
Herndon, a former district attorney, disclosed he had received campaign contributions from Young, Clark County District Attorney David Roger and Gibbons’ top campaign adviser, Sig Rogich.
“I don’t perceive there is any conflict at all in terms of my ability to decide this,” Herndon said.
Gower and Campbell agreed.
Crescent will not comment on the number of tapes, where they were held until they were turned over or the type of recording system used.
“We turned it over as soon as it was requested,” spokeswoman Jennifer Terrell said Tuesday. “I cannot elaborate.”
The company is a former client of lobbyist Rogich, who was dining and drinking with the congressman and Mazzeo the night of the incident. It also is landlord to Rogich’s communications firm.
Rogich said Tuesday that he had not used his relationship with the company to interfere with the handling of the tapes.
“I have not spoken with anyone at Crescent for close to two years,” he said.
Mazzeo’s lawyer, Richard Wright, has said that if Gibbons or Mazzeo do not appear on the surveillance tapes he believes they have been altered or are not the correct tapes.
Wright could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Tuesday that a man had accused Mazzeo and a boyfriend of a truck sale scam in 2005. Mazzeo and Erick Kristian Rockey sold Thomas and Julia Lapp a 2002 Ford F-150 for more than $15,000 but the two never produced a bill of sale for the vehicle and it was eventually repossessed, Lapp said.
Lapp’s wife contacted Henderson police, who investigated and concluded: “This case lacks any prosecutable merit and is a civil issue between Chrissy Mazzeo and Julia Lapp.”