LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – Standing front and center inside an otherwise nondescript seventh-floor courtroom in Las Vegas, dressed in camouflage pants and matching camo jacket, stood 61-year-old Brick Houston. On this day, he was facing charges and pleading for misdemeanor trespassing.
Houston has been in court — and arrested — dozens of times for crimes ranging from grand larceny to burglary to attempted forgery. He has done plenty of time behind bars. And, as far as this court hearing is concerned, enough of his crimes have been committed on or near the so-called Resort Corridor, that Houston is now banned from the Las Vegas Strip for six months.
“I took a 10-day suspended sentence where they restricted me for being on the Strip,” Houston said outside of the Regional Justice Center courthouse after his sentencing.
Houston is one of several criminal defendants prohibited from so much as stepping foot inside the Resort Corridor, mostly consisting of the area up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and a block or two on either side.
These defendants are among the first to appear in the so-called Resort Corridor court, where Melissa Saragosa, chief judge of the Las Vegas Justice Court, presides over cases involving people who get arrested on or near the Strip.
“I’m going to hand you a copy of this order in just a moment,” Saragosa told Houston when she levied the ban. The order includes a map of the Resort Corridor. “All the gray shaded areas are the areas you’re not authorized to be in.”
Saragosa continued her strongly worded caution, a refrain so frequently said since the court debuted in January, that those sitting in her courtroom could probably recite it along with her.
“If you are in those areas, you will be arrested on a new misdemeanor violation, and you will be brought back here to have the 10-day sentence imposed. Do you understand?”
Houston understands, even if he disagrees.
“No. I don’t think it’s fair,” Houston said. He said being banned from the entire Strip is too steep a punishment.
“If I get trespasses for being in the casino,” Houston said, “the sentence should be that I stay out of that casino. And if I get caught in that casino again, I mean, that’s when they should impose 10 days [of jail time] on me.”
Saragosa’s so-called Resort Corridor court was debated and approved by the Clark County Commission, where Commissioner Jim Gibson, the body’s chair, said it became a priority to rid the Strip and surrounding areas of serial repeat offenders. Some of those defendants get arrested in that region dozens of times.
“There are people who do things the first time,” Gibson told Nexstar’s KLAS. “And that person probably should be treated a little differently depending upon the severity of the action from a person who has done it a hundred times.”
Gibson said banning these repeat offenders is part of the solution for staggering numbers of arrests on or near the Strip. Officers with the Las Vegas Metro Police Department (LVMPD) arrest tens of thousands of people in that area every year.
“The reality is we’ve got to keep the environment safe and feeling safe,” Gibson said. “And the people we’re seeing arrested there are people who have a hard time with that.”
Saragosa is the gatekeeper of the Resort Corridor. She reviews each case in a matter of seconds, confirming that each defendant understands the charges he or she is facing, conferring with the prosecutors and defense attorneys, analyzing their criminal records, and generally boiling each defendant’s day in court to a suspended jail sentence and the inevitable stay-away order.
It generally goes just like this. For instance, Saragosa had this to say when she handed down a sentence to a young woman charged with a misdemeanor account of soliciting prostitution: “I am suspending that sentence conditioned on one thing: You stay out of the order-out corridor,” Saragosa said from the bench. “That includes the entire resort corridor up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, to include casinos to the left or west of I-15. You will be given a map. You must stay out of those areas.”
Saragosa refused to sit down for an interview with KLAS despite repeated requests. LVMPD, in an email, also refused to contribute to the investigation.
“Thank you for your interest,” Metro’s Office of Public Information said in an unsigned e-mail. We will not be participating at this time. Please reach out to court staff for this interview.”
Lt. Ted Snodgrass, who spent 33 years policing the valley, spoke with KLAS about the rise in violent crime on the Strip. He said the tourists, by and large, have not changed their routine, but that local criminals are getting bolder.
“It’s the locals that come down to prey upon the tourists that have changed and been more aggressive,” Snodgrass said.
In addition to Snodgrass’s firsthand knowledge from his three-plus decades on the job, he also has some academic prowess on the topic. He focused his master’s thesis for the University of Las Vegas on crime on the Strip.
“The state of Nevada relies on these two miles,” Snodgrass said. “This is what makes Nevada.”
Commissioner Gibson said that is the point of this new court.
“We have to keep the public realm along Las Vegas Boulevard safe,” Gibson said. “We cannot have people who are just up to mischief constantly out on the Boulevard. It’ll frighten everyone off. We will end up in a place where people perceive that it isn’t safe enough.”