The James Hoff Peace Officers Memorial at Idlewild Park in Reno, Nevada.

Image: Ty O’Neil

(Looking for season 1, focused on homelessness in the Reno area? The page has moved to here.)


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About

What unfolds in this podcast is the story of how many lives were irreversibly ruined because of grave errors made by numerous people — from cocky, maladjusted youth to the highest levels of the Reno Police Department and state government.


Episode 4: The Stabbing

The bag used by the Reno Police Department to hold $16,000 in cash. The cocaine buy by undercover Reno Police Officer ended with his death.
The bag used by the Reno Police Department to hold $16,000 in cash. 

“We were there for protection.”

That’s the storyline John Steven Olausen told police after he was arrested for the 1979 murder of undercover Reno Police Officer James Hoff. He and two others were waiting by the Truckee River in Reno past midnight and, along with a fourth man, took part in Hoff’s killing as part of a drug deal gone bad.

This fourth episode of Solutions Season 2 features a never-heard-before broadcast interview between Steve Olausen and Reno Police Department detectives.

This firsthand account of Hoff’s killing gives the perspective of one of the perpetrators of the crime both from ’79 — and today. Olausen claims he acted in self-defense.

Episode 3: The Setup

The El Tavern Motel in 2018. The motel was the location in 1979 of a poorly planned drug buy that resulted in Reno Police Officer James Hoff's death.
The El Tavern Motel in 2018. The motel was the location in 1979 of a poorly planned drug buy.

There have been few events that shocked the Reno community as much as the 1979 murder of undercover Reno Police Officer James Hoff.

Jimmy, as he was known, was allowed by the Reno Police Department to engage in a drug deal that ended his life. While most put blame on the four youth who were found guilty of Hoff’s murder, retired law enforcement, and Jimmy’s stepbrother, also say that RPD supervisors never should have allowed the deal to go down the way it did.

Two of youth were sentenced to life, and two others were sentenced to death for their role in Hoff’s killing. Steve Olausen’s sentence was later changed to life without the possibility of parole.

In addition to Jimmy’s stepbrother, this episode features interviews with retired police who knew Hoff. We also speak with the former girlfriend of the killer who remains on death row. Tom Wilson’s ex-girlfriend Kellie Morrissey-Schmanski publicly reveals her remembrance of what led to the fatal drug buy.



Episode 2: They Called Him Jimmy

James Hoff as a canine officer.
James Hoff as a canine officer.

Reno Police Officer James Hoff died in the line of duty. It was an undercover drug deal that went fatally wrong. But his legacy continues to be honored through today.

Jimmy’s murder continues to draw raw emotion. Though not even alive when Hoff’s death occurred, the officer’s legacy as a fallen officer resonates through today to the men and women of the Reno Police Department.

The James D. Hoff Peace Officers memorial honors the risks law enforcement make each and every day. While law enforcement’s role in recent years has come under increasing scrutiny, the life-and-death scenarios faced by police remain.

The role police had in Hoff’s killing, however, remains unsettled.

Episode 1: Maladjusted Youth

John Steven Olausen arrest photo, 1979.
John Steven Olausen arrest photo, 1979.

Reno was known as country’s gaming capital, but it was gradually becoming dwarfed by its southern Nevada counterpart, Las Vegas, as a gambling destination. Just about anyone could move to Reno and find work that pays enough to get by — as a dishwasher, a dealer, a car salesman, or a cab driver. It was this lure for fast, easy money that drew one young man to Reno in 1979.

Just out of high school, but without a diploma, John Steven Olausen struggled to learn. In fact, he had a learning disability, dyslexia, that hampered his ability to understand the basics. He was also easily influenced. His friends said he was a Boy Scout, willing to do anything for anyone at any time.


Watch: Preview video

Read: The Killing of a Cop

Reno, Nevada in the 1970s was radically different from today’s Reno. The city’s 1970 population of about 72,000 pales to today’s count of more than 245,000 citizens. Reno then, as now, was also a draw for low-skilled, blue collar labor. Just about anyone could move to Reno and find work that paid enough to get by—as a dishwasher, a dealer, a car salesman or a cab driver.

It was this lure for fast, easy money that drew one young man to Reno in 1979. Just out of high school, but without a diploma, John Steven Olausen struggled to learn. In fact, he had a learning disability, dyslexia, that hampered his ability to understand the basics.

Read the companion piece to this podcast over at the Reno News & Review.


Credits

  • Samuel Sheridan, interning from the University of Nevada, Reno, gathered audio, assisted with interview recording, conducted research, and helped track down sources for interviews
  • Ty O’Neil took the gorgeous cover photograph of the James Hoff Peace Officers Memorial
  • Darcy Lenardson diligently and patiently scheduled interviews
  • Victoria Janicke reported and recorded audio from Nevada State Prison

Funding

Solutions Season 2 is supported by the Impact-Designed Investigative Grant from the Local Independent Online News Publishers association and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.