Commissioner says GPS tracker placed on his car, joins Reno mayor to learn who did it
Editor's note: This story was produced as part of a broader investigation in partnership with KUNR and APM Reports.
In an amended complaint filed with the Washoe County District Court on Thursday night, Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung said a GPS tracking device was placed on his vehicle and he believes the private investigator who tracked Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve’s car is responsible.
“I was appalled to learn that my private vehicles had been tracked for approximately seven months using the same tracking device that was ultimately found on Mayor Schieve’s vehicle,” Hartung said in a written statement on Friday.
Hartung is the first public official to join Schieve’s lawsuit against David McNeely, a private investigator who told police that he was tracking Schieve for political purposes. Schieve and Hartung are asking a judge to compel McNeely to release the name of his client. McNeely is fighting the disclosure in court, and his lawyer responded to questions Friday about the Hartung development by saying McNeely had no comment.
The complaint filed jointly on behalf of Schieve and Hartung noted that while the surveillance of Schieve lasted several weeks, a GPS device tracked Hartung and the family members who shared his vehicle for several months. It said the tracking devices “captured comprehensive information about the most private details of [their lives]” and made it available to third parties.
“Schieve and Hartung, as long-time public servants, were acutely aware of the rise in violent attacks on elected officials across the country,” attorneys wrote in the complaint. “Consequently, the discovery that they were being tracked caused them severe distress and anxiety.”
Along with distress, attorneys said that the placement of a GPS tracking device was “especially unacceptable” because Hartung’s cars were used by his wife and daughter and tracking the vehicles exposed his entire family to possible harm and unwarranted monitoring.
“This type of conduct should not be tolerated in Nevada and I hope that the full force of the law is brought to stop this kind of unwarranted stalking and harassment of public officials and their families,” Hartung said.
In the complaint, Hartung said he only discovered his vehicle had been tracked after receiving unspecified records showing the locations of his vehicle at his home and other places he and his family frequently visited. Attorneys also suspect similar tracking devices were installed on the vehicles of other prominent community members, but did not offer evidence.
In January, Washoe County District Judge David Hardy granted a subpoena compelling McNeely to reveal who hired him. But McNeely hired attorneys who argued that identifying his client would violate trade secrets and could ruin his reputation as a private investigator.
In a separate filing submitted on Thursday, attorneys representing Schieve and Hartung said the arguments are hypocritical.
They also said that though Nevada has not enacted a law prohibiting electronic tracking, the unauthorized use of a tracking device is banned by numerous civil statutes and common law rights. An anti-doxxing bill passed during the 2021 legislative session allows a person whose sensitive information has been disseminated without their consent to sue for damages, attorney’s fees and other costs.
As of Friday morning, the court had not weighed in on the next steps in the case.
Schieve first learned of the surveillance when her mechanic found the GPS tracker on her car during routine maintenance. She took the device to Sparks Police Department, which was able to identify McNeely as the owner.
According to body camera footage reviewed by KUNR and The Nevada Independent, McNeely told the Sparks police in November that the placement of the tracking device during Schieve’s bid for re-election was “political” and posed “no threat to the mayor.” He did not reveal further details at that time.
But in a videotaped interview with officers investigating the case, Schieve said she was worried about her safety.
“Now you're starting to go through your mind, like, ‘Who could it be?’ There's a million different things, right?” she told police. “That person that hired him could be crazy.”
Though Hartung was not up for re-election in 2022, records reviewed by The Nevada Independent and KUNR indicate that he was tracked after he faced an unsuccessful recall attempt that was withdrawn in March of that year.
This story was updated at 10:40 a.m. on 2/24/23 to include a statement from Commissioner Hartung, and at 3:50 p.m. to add comment from McNeely’s lawyer.