Delighted, I’m sure
Remember in December when that newspaper in White Plains, New York, the Journal News, published the names and addresses of licensed gun owners across New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties? Some in the U.S. erupted at the audacity of the newspaper actually providing public information to the public in a way the public could easily access. Half the respondents fell on the side of public disclosure, championing the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. The other half came down in favor of gun-owner privacy. Unfortunately for the newspaper, those were the people with the guns, and before the information was removed from the website, guards had to be hired to protect the journalists from people who championed the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
That’s really where this story, this cautionary tale about public figures and public information, started. It also had beginnings in my data reporting class at the University of Nevada, Reno, where I’m studying for a master’s degree. Professor Alan Deutschman told us to do a background check on a public figure using only our computers, checking government and private databases. He even assisted by buying each of us one of those web “people searches” sold by Intelius (see Doc. 01) that constantly clog our spam filters. We were then to present our findings to the class. The “you can’t talk to sources” is fine for class, but for publication, journalists at least try to communicate with the people we’re talking about.
On the surface, this story will be about Nevada Assemblymember Steven Brooks who stands accused of threatening Nevada Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, battery on a family member and [making] a false statement to obstruct public officer. But it’s really about the First Amendment. This isn’t just a tool for journalists; public information in this internet age is available for everyone from Fallon to Beijing. It’s to enable this country’s citizens to participate in their democracy. If the information is hidden, it’s because government wants it hidden. But almost all information now is within our reach, even from 451 miles away.
So let me introduce you to Steven John Brooks II: Delighted, I’m sure. I chose him because he happened to be in the news at the time of the assignment. For the newsprint version of this story, I will write a cogent, connect-the-dots story, but its real guts will be on our website, www.newsreview.com/reno, where links will be enabled to a folder that holds every document mentioned in the story. I’ll try to number the pdf documents in a logical manner. And once you see my methodology, you’ll have tools to see what’s online about yourself, your neighbor, or your legislator.
Point and click
I’m as attracted to crime and guns and swords and madness as the next guy, so I immediately did a quick Google search to find out what had been reported about the alleged crimes and arrests. This story isn’t really about those incidents—nobody with good sense wants to beat up on someone suffering from what appears to be emotional issues—but suffice it to say, several people thought Brooks was acting unhinged, and several calls were made to police. He was arrested the first time on Jan. 19. That generated a declaration of arrest, which I initially saw attached to a story by Jon Ralston on TheDailyBeast.com and hosted on Ralston’s site, RalstonReports.com (see documents 02, 03, 04, 05, 06). These documents had one crucial redaction (that is, words blotted out): Steven Brooks’ address. I later found cleaner versions that showed his address as 3305 E. Rome Blvd., Apt. 2078, North Las Vegas, NV 89081 (doc. 07).
Another thing that piqued my curiosity was on pages 1 and 4 of the cleaner report: The address 6007 Turtle River Ave., was described by police as his wife’s home and then his—never their home together, and it wasn’t the home address listed on the first page.
Yet another was the gun. If Brooks had a concealed carry permit, it would seem odd that the gun was in a shoebox in the trunk—no reason not to have it at hand, particularly if he felt threatened. I Facebooked several acquaintances whom I thought probably had the 2010 police document listing carriers of concealed weapons permits. (I have the one for Washoe County, but I didn’t imagine 61 out of 63 legislators would myopically decide at the 2011 Nevada Legislature that this was another secret the government should keep, so I missed my opportunity to get one for Clark County.) One replied that while there was a Stephen Brooks listed, Steven J. Brooks II didn’t have a permit three years ago. A few things maybe made a bit more sense—like why he was carrying a friend’s .357 Smith & Wesson revolver instead of his own. He might not even own one. I don’t think I have to explain why people should be able to check gun permits when a neighbor, co-worker or fellow legislator is exhibiting signs of mental illness and allegedly making threats against acquaintances and police.
I stuck a Post-It with the address on it to my brain and moved on. When I start to look at a politician (or even a rich person) for a story, I go to the Nevada Secretary of State’s election site. Who is he or she beholden to and who is beholden to him or her? It’s at http://tinyurl.com/8zac5jd. You have to check each tab to drain the information to the last drop. To save some time, just see our online docs. 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, but pay special attention to the addresses on docs. 18, 19, 20, 21. Nothing overtly interesting here—like unusually large contributions from single donors—though there’s a lot of money from mining interests.
One reason there’s an address listed for people running for office is so voters can determine if he or she actually lives in the district they are campaigning to represent. Three different addresses in six months, and none of them the home addresses listed on the police report? Red flag. And would somebody please tell me why the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t require the residential address on the Contribution and Expenditure forms? Less transparency for us voters. Just ask Assemblymember Andrew Martin who won election even though a district judge said he was ineligible because he didn’t live in the district (see doc. 23, another from Jon Ralston’s site). Or maybe Assemblymember Ira Hansen will have something to say about all that.
Movin’ to the county
Let’s explore the county information environment. Think of an investigation as going from the general to the specific: global, state, county, community, individual. There are four offices in Clark County that could provide crucial financial information about friends, enemies and politicians: Assessor, Recorder, courts and Registrar of Voters. I didn’t find anything interesting in courts.
The Assessor’s Office is particularly good for property records. You can check property records by owner’s name here: www.clarkcountynv.gov/depts/assessor/pages/recordsearch.aspx, so plug in Steven Brooks and select “Show present and prior owners of the parcel.” I know Brooks’ wife’s name is Ada from the arrest report, so I clicked on the second listing and we get the history of 6007 Turtle River Ave. (see doc. 24). It’s the only property Steven Brooks appears to own, and he got his half from his wife who bought it from Eduardo and Jessica I. Miramontes on Jan. 6, 2005 (see doc. 25) when she was Ada Yllas. They got married on March 2, 2006 (doc. 26), Ada Brooks did a quitclaim deed on Aug. 30, 2006 (doc. 27), and the home became jointly owned on Sept. 13, 2006 (page 5, doc. 27). There’s even a description (doc. 28). You’ll have to look at the document yourself. We wouldn’t want to be nosy or anything. While you’re at it, you’ll want to check out some of the other addresses that raised your interest.
Why’d Ada Lidia Yllas become Ada Brooks and give half her house to Steven? Well, to find that out, you’ve got to go to the Recorder’s site at https://recorder.co.clark.nv.us/RecorderEcommerce. There you can get a record of the marriage certificate; see if there are any foreclosures filed; search for ownership documents or check for liens. We’ll want to do all of them because you’ll never know just what you’ll find. There’s a lien from 2008 against the Brookses by Republic Services filed under “foreclosures” for some reason (see doc. 29). Under “property” is the deed to the home on Turtle River, and finally under “liens,” there’s that same lien from Republic Services, the garbage service.
The Clark County Registrar of Voters can be found at www.clarkcountynv.gov/depts/election/pages/default.aspx, but what I really wanted wasn’t available “self-serve” on the website. To satisfy this question of where the heck Steven and/or Ada lived, I had to send an email to Harvard “Larry” Lomax, the Clark County Registrar. He kindly and quickly responded with Steven Brooks’ voter registration applications: Pumpkin Patch Avenue in 2000; Turtle River Avenue in 2005, Ponticello Drive in 2008, back to Turtle River Avenue in 2009, and 109 Delighted Avenue on Jan. 13, 2012 and again on Jan. 24, 2012 (see doc. 30). Lomax was also kind enough to send me Brooks’ voting history (see doc. 31) and his declaration of candidacy for Assembly District 17 (see doc. 32).
In a word, all those address changes seemed “weird.” Again, red flags. None of those address changes listed Rome Boulevard, the street listed as his address on the arrest document. I remembered he’d been elected to the District 19 Assembly seat in 2010, so on a hunch, I called up congress.org, plugged in the Turtle River zip code, typed in the rest of the address information, and that’s when it all began to make sense: the Turtle River home was in Assembly District 19; the Delighted Avenue house was in District 17. Brooks had changed his voting address and maybe even moved because he had to in order to run for the District 17 Assembly seat, even though he was the incumbent in District 19. I haven’t figured out his motivation for running in a different district, but with redistricting, who knows? An experienced Republican, Cresent Hardy, won District 19. Maybe as a Democrat, Brooks just thought 17 would be an easier win.
And that move meant that his own wife would not be able to vote for him unless she moved, too. And as I saw when I downloaded the cumulative voting records for Clark County from the Registrar’s site, http://tinyurl.com/aacrmmk, and created a database in Microsoft Access, she had indeed voted in District 17 (see doc. 33) on Oct. 21, 2012, the same day Steven did, at the same early voting polling place. The only way this could have happened would be if she was registered somewhere other than Turtle River.
Another quick email to Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax. Ada had changed her address to 109 Delighted Ave. on Jan. 21, 2012 (see doc. 34). I emailed the Registrar asking if there were any other people registered to vote at 109 Delighted Ave. Just one: Gregory Anthony Stallworth. He registered to vote in April 2012, the day after he turned 18 (see doc. 35). And the only thing I knew about him was his name had appeared as having been paid from Steven Brooks’ election fund in 2010 and 2012 on the Secretary of State’s site for a total of $1,260 (see doc. 36). A web search suggested he’s Ada’s grown son. He was probably being paid to put up campaign signs or some such. I attempted to reach him through what appeared to be his Facebook page, but never heard back. Back to the Assessor’s and Recorder’s offices for info on 109 Delighted Ave., including foreclosure documents (see docs. 38, 39, 40, 41, 42). I can’t help but wonder how that foreclosure fits in all this.
What’s all this prove? Nothing. It’s circumstantial evidence that raises questions about who was actually living at 109 Delighted Ave. and who was living at 6007 Turtle River Ave. In the initial police report, cops separately called the Turtle River house both Steven and Ada’s house. But Steven couldn’t have been living there, because then he would have been living and voting outside his district, which is illegal. Ada shouldn’t have been living there unless she moved back after the election—which makes sense in light of current events.
In fact, the residency words are clearly stated on all voter registration applications: “I swear or affirm … the present address listed herein is my sole legal place of residence, and I claim no other place as my legal residence.” The applicable law is NRS 293.800 (see doc. 43), a felony. Steven Brooks had to have an even more specific oath notarized; that applicable law is 293.1755 (see doc. 44), oddly, a gross misdemeanor.
Ada Brooks was hesitant when I called her cell phone to answer the question as to whether she or her husband lived on Turtle River Avenue.
“It’s just me,” she said after a pause, probably surprised by a reporter calling after 6 p.m. “Why—why do you need to know where I live? He’s got a place in the district. He’s got a place in the district. That’s all you need to know.”
She refused to answer whether she had ever lived at 109 Delighted Ave.: “I’m not going to make no comment,” she said. “We’ve got a place in the district, everything is OK. He’s in the district. We’ve always been in the district. I’ve always had this house. Always. This house we’ve had for a long time, but we’ve always been in the district.”
And then she hung up.
Our own private web
The internet was thick with stories, guesses and blogs about Steven John Brooks II. Go ahead, compose a few search strings, or just check the Las Vegas Review-Journal site—Steve Sebelius and Mike Blasky have been following this pretty closely. One provocative thing that I saw was the appearance that someone at some point had maladroitly attempted to go back and scrub Brooks’ internet presence after the whole arrest and commitment fiasco.
His Facebook account is gone, but his Twitter account still exists, https://twitter.com/brooks4assembly as does his blog, http://stevenbrookslv.blogspot.com. His Google Plus account is still up (with lots of vacation photos). Someone even attempted to remove his campaign’s website, www.brooks4assembly.com. However, through the internet archive, the Wayback Machine, http://archive.org/web/web.php, it’s easy enough to look at: http://tinyurl.com/bfzetqq. His YouTube account was also still live: www.youtube.com/brooks4assembly.
Brooks’ legislative bio says he works for the City of Las Vegas as a liaison, so I did a quick check of Transparent Nevada, http://tinyurl.com/batr6f9, and found he earned $44,413 base pay and benefits in 2011 as a Management Analyst I.
Since so many of his affiliations are with nonprofits—Las Vegas Urban League; Hispanic Museum of Nevada; Community Land Trust; Southern Nevada Enterprise Community Board; Community Partners for Better Health—to wrap things up, I checked www.Guidestar.com to see if there was anything unusual. Guidestar monitors nonprofit organizations.
Several nonprofits he mentioned had few or missing IRS financial reports (990s), but I didn’t see any paid gigs for him. But as his seemingly greatest connections have been to the Las Vegas Urban League (see docs. 45, 46, 47) and Community Partners for Better Health (see docs. 48, 49, 50), here are the 990s.
Finally, I just wanted to see what legislation he sponsored or signed on. That was in the Nevada Legislature’s database: Here’s 2013 so far, www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/77th2013/Reports/SponsorSearch.cfm, and here’s for 2011, www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/76th2011/Reports/SponsorSearch.cfm. Here’s another method to get his record: www.leg.state.nv.us/dbtw-wpd/LegSim.htm.
As I said before, journalists try to communicate with people we communicate about, so I’ve sent written messages or left voicemails for all the people mentioned in this story. As I write this, I hope Assemblymember Brooks will call, but I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t. He’s got to be about sick of media, sick of the distractions while he tries to perform the duties he was elected twice to do. (While he still could do his duty, before the Select Committee on the Assembly kicked him out of the building.) But he doesn’t seem the type who will make the assumption that the story will stop just because he doesn’t call.
I had five questions to ask him: 1) Why does the police report state your home was at 6007 Turtle River Ave., which is out of your district? 2) Do you own a gun? 3) When did you live at 109 Delighted Avenue? 4) Why did you pay Stallworth $1,260 from your campaign fund in 2010 and 2012? 5) Why are so many of the addresses on your campaign reports different?
He answered the phone, on the Friday before his second arrest on Feb. 10, or at least it was a man’s voice that answered the question, “Steven Brooks?” with, “Yes, who is this?” I told him, and he handed the phone to a woman who said, “I’m sorry he’s not taking any calls right now, but thanks for calling,” and the phone went dead.
If it weren’t for those public documents, the story would have ended right there, right at the moment an arrogant public servant decided he didn’t want to answer legitimate questions. A published story at that point would have only added to the distractions a duly elected representative has brought into our legislative process.
But documents, like statistics, can be misleading. I wanted to get to the bottom of that house on Delighted Avenue, so after seeing the house was for sale on Zillow.com, http://tinyurl.com/arg5t22, I texted a friend, Matt O’Brien, in Las Vegas to ask him to snap a picture. He also volunteered to talk to neighbors. (People can be more accurate than documents, but not always.) On the same day Brooks was being arrested for battery on a family member and [making] a false statement to obstruct public office, O’Brien found one chatty neighbor who was willing to volunteer that Steven Brooks, wife, son and mother-in-law did indeed live in a gated community in a stucco house with Spanish-style roof for around a year, only moving about a month ago—after issues developed with another neighbor of nasty reputation.
So where does this leave us? Has democracy been enabled or disabled by having as much factual information as possible about a legislator who has been a severe distraction to the 77th session of the Nevada Legislature? It seems to me, the most important information to people like Nevada Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick—like Brooks’ access to guns—has been made secret by government. But now, I don’t expect to get a call from Brooks; he’s got bigger problems than some nosy journalist 451 miles away from his district (see docs 51, 52 or LVRJ crime reporter Mike Blasky’s tweets, https://twitter.com/blasky).
Matthew O’Brien of Las Vegas contributed to this report.