Nevada GOP campaign operatives lied to have me arrested for assaulting a female campaign operative, and it looks like I’m about to be railroaded. Fortunately, once again I’ve got good video of what actually occurred — video that proves in no uncertain terms how egregiously the so-called witnesses lied. Until yesterday, when my trial was canceled after I traveled from Washington DC to Las Vegas, I was hopeful that I’d get a fair shake from the prosecutor and the courts. I decided not to release the video of events leading to my arrest, because I didn’t want to “try the case in the court of public opinion”.
Well, after learning that evidence has been destroyed and that the prosecutor is intent on convicting me even after seeing this video… Well, I’m hoping sunlight will be the best disinfectant. Please tweet and otherwise share this story widely. If I’m going to be railroaded, I want the whole world to know.
Last October, I was working as a reporter for the American Ledger. It was my job to ask Republicans “accountability questions” that they almost invariably would find unwelcome. This will give you a flavor of my work (I think I was the first reporter to put Senators on the record about the White House occupant’s family separation policy).
That video was recorded in early summer on Capitol Hill, and the answers and reactions to my inquiries were fairly tame. Things would be different four months later in Vegas.
I was sent to Las Vegas to ask Adam Laxalt, the sitting Attorney General and 2018 GOP candidate for Nevada Governor a specific question about his sealed arrest record from his time as a college student at Tulane. It had emerged that at least one of those arrests resulted in charges that he had assaulted a police officer. American Ledger wanted to know if he had been arrested for assaulting anyone else, or whether the police officer was his only victim.
Here’s the thing about campaigns: as you get closer to election day, everything is magnified. Every single news cycle is worth millions of dollars in “earned media”. A single flub could cost you the election, and with more than $20 million spent on the race, it only makes sense that anxiety levels among campaign staffers and supporters would be off the charts.
Asking questions about Laxalt’s sealed arrest records was always going to be contentious, but I never wanted to see anything like this:
Unfortunately, the price of slo-mo video is that it doesn’t come with sound, but this is what happened and what you (and the prosecutor) are seeing:
[Pre-video]: Laxalt left a school-choice event and emerged into the common area you see at the beginning of this video. Seeing me with my camera (cell-phone) raised, Laxalt (accompanied by his campaign manager, Kristin Davison) spun on his heel and retreated behind that door. That door is unmarked, and doesn’t indicate that it is a restricted space, so I followed Laxalt and Davison into the space. Laxalt did another 180, and went back out into the common area as I began my question. He was followed by Davison, so I had to follow her through the door. That allowed Laxalt to put some distance between me and him, but once I got through the door way, I hastened to catch up. That’s where this video begins.
From 0-25 seconds: you see me racing to catch up with the candidate, Adam Laxalt. (Note that you can see I must have accidentally hit my phone’s “HOME” button; I intended to be recording video but somehow the camera was turned off). While I try to catch up with Laxalt, his campaign manager, Kristin Davison, uses her arm to bar my progress, attempts to run into me and otherwise uses her body to impede my progress. This was an unwanted touching and as a matter of law, it is the textbook definition of an assault. I’m not saying I’d press charges over it, but it does show clearly that Ms. Davison was willing to use physical force to keep her candidate from taking questions.
From :25-:49 seconds: As I approach Attorney General Laxalt, I observe journalistic protocols by keeping his body-man between him and me. The body-man, name unknown, raises his arm and pushes me away. This is another unwanted touching, and another text-book example of an assault. Again; I’m used to this. Staffers sometimes feel the need to protect their candidates, and if they reflexively raise a hand to create space, I’m not going to get too exercised over it. At this point, things weren’t straying too far from normal, especially considering we were in the final weeks before the election. Toward the end of this segment, you see that I notice my camera wasn’t recording and I focus on that as we walk toward the exit.
From :49-1:29: As I’m distracted with my phone, Davison looks for a way out and turns Adam Laxalt into an unused classroom.
From 1:29-2:10: (off camera) I notice Davison and Laxalt have broken off, and now they are followed by another man (later determined to be Ryan Keller, Donald Trump’s Deputy State Director for Iowa). As Keller closes the door, I catch it and pull it open. Immediately, the body-man wraps his arms around my girth and attempts to tackle me from behind. The body-man probably weighs about 130; I’m 220. He exerted a good tug, but in the end he may as well have tried tackling a tree: his hands just slid off my belly. The woman recording this video emitted an alarmed “Oh my god” and everything seemed to freeze for a few seconds as people took a moment to figure out what was going on. Needless to say, the body-man’s tackle attempt was an extremely unwanted touching and another classic example of assault. In fact, unlike the other less egregious physical uses of force by Davison and the body-man, this was one I could have easily charged if I was so inclined.
From 2:11-5:03: Additional Laxalt supporters arrive. Bob List, former Nevada Governor and prominent Las Vegas attorney, insults me and says I’m out of line. Stephen Puetz, an Axiom Strategies Sr. VP, arrives along with Joe Brown, Of Counsel at Bob List’s firm. Adam Laxalt uses the angles to hide in the only corner of the room that the videographer cannot film. Ryan Keller and Kristin Davison use their bodies and arms to block me from entering the conference room. The status-quo prevails until…
From 5:04-5:44: at 5:04, Ryan Keller drops his arm and is no longer (unlawfully) impeding my progress into the conference room. (If you question the assertation that his (and Davison’s) attempts to block my entrance were unlawful, think about what would happen if they tried to block you from entering a door at, say, for example, your local pharmacy: the point is they had no authority to prevent me from entering a space I had a lawful right to be). At 5:33 I notice Davison has also dropped her arm so that she could use her phone. I attempt to shimmy my way along the wall, avoiding contact with Keller, Davison and everyone else, so that I can film Laxalt while he’s hiding in the corner.
From 5:45-5:56: Davison launches herself into me, using her arm and elbow under my chin to prevent me from progressing further. This is another physically aggressive act without lawful justification. It was an unwanted touching and an easily chargeable assault.
From 5:56-7:17: Keller ducks under my arm and begins maneuvering to situate himself behind Davison. He uses his arms to corral Davison in front of him and leans into her as they both attempt to push me out of the doorway. I struggle to maintain my position, but I’m being pressed into the door jam. I struggle to free myself from being crushed against the painful doorjam in my back by grasping the opposite doorjam. Bob List approaches. I try to shimmy further into the room to continue asking Laxalt questions while filming his answers. Keller leans back, and continuing to use Davison as a buffer, crushes her into me and me against the wall. All the while, I have every lawful right to be in that space. Every effort made by Davison and Keller to prevent my access constitutes an unlawful assault.
From 7:17-8:03: Brown enters the room and works his way around Keller and Davison so that he’s situated to my left. List begins pushing my camera arm around.
From 8:03-9:03: Brown begins grabbing at my face, and pulling my hair and ear. I turn my cell-phone camera to him because I simply cannot believe where this has gone. List enters the room further. Puetz enters the picture and begins pulling at my arm. At all times, save for a few seconds I film Brown’s unmoored aggression, I am focused on filming Laxalt and asking him questions.
From 9:03-11:00: Bob List grabs one of my arms, Stephen Puetz has the other. It appears as if someone, probably Keller, has grasped Davison’s arm and she cannot free it. At 9:26 or so, Ryan Keller seems to be enjoying some sort of rapturous release.
From 11:00-end: disengagement and police arrival. Joe Brown (always a class act; you’ll recall he was the one pulling on my ear and hair) asks Davison if she wants to sue me. The videographer says it wasn’t me that had Davison’s arm, it was “the other guy”. Keller slinks off (maybe to go clean up?). The police ask what occurred; I begin telling him.
[Post-video]: The policeman continues interviewing me. I complain that I’ve been assaulted by a mob of GOP operatives. I explain that I’m a partisan reporter, there to hold the republican candidate for governor accountable by asking him questions about his arrest record. I further explain that I do this for a living and that these circumstances are not unusual — that politicians do not like taking hostile questions late in a campaign cycle, and that their supporters like it even less. I continue, explaining that all of the witnesses here are Republicans with a clear motivation to lie about me, a reporter for American Ledger, a project of American Bridge, the largest Democratic opposition research firm and a bugaboo of the right. I implore the policeman to check the venue security cameras before making a charging decision because, aside from me, that’s probably the only place he’d be likely to find the truth. The policeman, in turn, tells me 1) he’s wearing a body-cam and he’s recording everything; and 2) that he’s fully aware of the venue security cameras and, in fact, that venue was chosen for this event because of the saturation coverage provided by the camera network.
I further share with the policeman that I’m an attorney with some criminal defense experience and that under these facts — where (although I didn’t know their names at the time) Davison, the body-man, Keller, List, Puetz, and Brown used their bodies to impede my lawful progress — that I was the actual victim. I explained that I was invited to the event, never asked to leave, and that since I had the same rights under the law to be in the same spaces as Laxalt and his staff, there was no legal justification or defense for their attempts to restrain me from progressing into any of the spaces I attempted to enter.
It is critically important to note that my hands were visible and, throughout the video, are never used in aggression. In fact, the use of my hands was limited to maintaining my balance, pointing the camera, and bracing myself against the doorway to prevent myself from being pushed or tackled.
The policeman heard me out and left me to interview the Republican “witnesses”. I was escorted outside by the interviewing policeman’s partner to wait.
I don’t know what happened among the Republicans while I was being interviewed, and I’m not sure what they told the police. What I do know is that the policeman returned several minutes later, placed me in handcuffs and told me I was subject to a citizen’s arrest. I was told Kristin Davison had marks on her arm and says they were caused by me grabbing her arm, twisting it behind her back and pinning her against the wall. I was sent to jail, self-bailed, kept in jail overnight, and finally released at around 4 PM the next day.
While I was in jail, the GOP smear machine got busy — just as I told the police they would. While I was handcuffed and led to the police car, they had their cameras out. All the better if Drudge Report and Fox News and right-wing twitter have pictures. I was cast as an attacker of women (again). Ms. Davison enjoyed some time as a right-wing media darling. Here’s her interview with Fox News, and it’s utterly ridiculous. Ah, ridiculous or not, you had to count this as a win for the GOP in terms of the news cycle. I felt horrible since that is the exact opposite of what I was hired to do.
I was released from jail, and immediately learned that I had also been let go from my job.
I hired a lawyer, and we subpoenaed the police report, the police body-cam video, and the venue video. We got the report returned to us; check out the witness statements given by Davison, Puetz, List, and Brown below… (Evidently Ryan Keller was unavailable to provide a statement to police...)
More importantly — and in fact, if you remember nothing else from this diary, remember this — we were told that the video from the venue and the police body-cam video was unavailable. That’s right — I’m being charged with assault, the policeman told me the event was held at the east Las Vegas Community Center at least in part because of its security camera network, I request the video and… it’s been destroyed? Te venue video that may well have caught a confederate of Ms. Davison squeezing her arm to leave marks on it so they could blame me for assaulting her… That’s just gone?
Not only that, but the police body-cam video which would have captured me telling the police exactly what happened, exactly what sort of lies the GOP partisans would tell… the body-cam footage that would have captured the so-called witnesses lying about what happened in ways that would have been wildly incongruent with what we caught on video and what would have been caught on the venue video… That video is just gone?
Yeah, I went up against the Attorney General of the State of Nevada. Should I have expected things to have worked out any differently?
As it turns out, I was supposed to have my trial on April 15. I was finally able to learn the identity of the videographer a couple of weeks ago, and I reached out to her. it turns out she was there with her boyfriend, and both said they’d be willing to testify on my behalf. Unfortunately, I got a call from my attorney on Sunday afternoon: my witnesses got called out of town, and would be unable to be at the courthouse the next day. we decided to ask the court for permission for them to testify by Skype or Facetime. The court clerk told us that would be impossible. We were disappointed, but the bulk of my defense is the video, so we decided we’d go forward without the witnesses. After all, I had flown all the way to Vegas from Washington DC; I didn’t want that to be for nought. So… We show up at court, and we’re told the judge unilaterally continued the case. The prosecutor had called all her witnesses and told them not to show up for the trial. I asked the judge if we could at least have the prosecutor try to reach the witnesses to see if they were still available to come to court (they all live in Vegas). The judge said “Oopsy, my error, come back again next month, Mr. Stark. I don’t think it’d be fair to ask the prosecutor to make those calls.”
So I’ve got trial next month. In the meantime we’ll be filing a motion contesting the spoilation of the evidence int he form of video from police body-cams and the venue security footage. But man… that judge did not seem patient at all; I got the sense she was annoyed I was taking this case to trial. I don’t feel good about things, but you’ll be hearing more from me in the coming days.
For now, compare these witness statements to what you see in the video: