Nevada prisons add tools to avoid shootings, but keep guns

prison bitchNevada prisons have added more guards and trained officers how to use rubber bullets in an effort to end deadly shootings behind bars, officials said Thursday, but they also defended the use of shotguns if all else fails.

The comments came as the Board of State Prison Commissioners followed up on an audit of prison use-of-force policies. The state faces lawsuits over prison shootings, including one at High Desert State Prison in 2014 that left an inmate dead.

“We really believe that the use of (shotguns) will be drastically reduced,” said Nevada Department of Corrections Interim Director E.K. McDaniel, calling birdshot “a last resort in saving people’s lives.”

Nevada commissioned an independent review of its prison policies in May, a few weeks after news broke that an inmate died after being shot. A lawsuit alleges Carlos Manuel Perez Jr. was handcuffed when he was shot and killed Nov. 12, 2014, and accuses prison guards of creating a “gladiator-like scenario” by letting inmates fight before firing into the fray.

It wasn’t widely known that Perez died from gunfire until four months afterward.

“There are issues. That’s why we asked for this report,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in August. “I want to make sure that our Department of Corrections is following the best practices that are current nationally.”

The report, written by the Association of State Correctional Administrators, offers 10 recommendations for Nevada’s prison system, including ramping up staffing, clarifying policies on how to respond to fights among inmates, and training guards on how to use pepper spray.

The report’s authors said the Nevada prison system has the highest ratio of inmates to staff in the country, at 12:1. But McDaniel said the number is about half that when supervisory staff, who aren’t officers, are counted.

Lawmakers approved funding to bring on 100 new employees over the next two years, and McDaniel said the state is now placing its second batch of hires.

The report also recommended corrections officers have batons, pepper spray and handcuffs to defuse fights before a shotgun is necessary.

McDaniel said officers who have close contact with inmates are now equipped with the spray, and guards at all prisons have been trained on how to use rubber bullets.

Plan to hire 100 Nevada correctional officers moves forward

nevada is a police stateCARSON CITY — A legislative panel Thursday endorsed a $7.6 million spending plan to hire 100 additional correctional officers at the Nevada Department of Corrections.

The funding recommended by a joint Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means subcommittee is included in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed $7.4 billion two-year budget.

As part of approval, legislators said they want the department to provide quarterly updates on prison staff vacancies to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

The department’s overall budget is roughly $580 million over the biennium.

Personnel vacancies at Nevada’s remote prisons is a chronic problem, with 115 positions currently open. Ely State Prison, the state’s maximum security penitentiary where death row inmates are housed, is down 55 positions, or 20 percent. High Desert Prison and Southern Desert Correctional Center in Southern Nevada have 17 and 14 vacancies, respectively.

Adding personnel comes with updating a shift-relief formula used to ensure there is enough staff to cover vacations and other absences. Nevada’s formula has been in place since 1979.

“It’s a big deal,” Corrections Director Greg Cox said after the hearing, noting he doesn’t recall ever receiving approval for such a large staff increase.

Cox added the department has been stepping up recruitment and targeting former military personnel, with emphasis on areas in other states where prisons have closed.

“We’ve been very successful doing that,” he said.

At remote rural facilities such as Carlin and Humboldt conservation camps where vacancies are especially hard to fill because of a lack of housing, the department has developed recreational vehicle spaces. DOC also plans to create five RV spaces at Ely State Prison and to prepare infrastructure for five more.

Kevin Ranft, a representative of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041, hailed the committee’s recommendation to add officers and update the shift-relief factor.

“Providing these positions is going to save lives,” Ranft said.

To streamline hiring, the department last year expanded a correctional trainee program, where new hires begin work almost immediately and “shadow” correctional officers for up to one year before they attend required Peace Officers Standards Training.

Trainees are not allowed to handle keys or weapons and department officials said the program gives new hires a chance to see what the job entails before money is spent on further training.

Mother claims son’s vision deteriorates as prison denies him medical care

Kelly Richards said her son will be blind for life if Nevada Department of Corrections officials continue to deny him the medical care he needs.

Inmate Rashaad Williams, 24, sustained eye injuries from birdshot in a shotgun during a prison brawl in which he was not involved.

Richards said her son has been denied medical care that could save his sight, visits by an attorney and contact with his family since he was admitted to the hospital.

The department categorically denied the allegations.

Williams was transferred to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center from the William Bee Ririe Hospital in Ely, the department said last week. Richards said she was told about the incident 48 hours after the April 21 brawl and that her son was a bystander and complied with guards’ orders before he was shot in the face.

Richards said her son had to wait several hours before he received proper medical attention.

The department said in a release last week that Williams was provided on-site medical care before he was taken to the hospital.

“My main concern is my son’s health,” Richards said.

Richards said that her repeated calls to department and hospital officials have gone unanswered. An ophthalmologist, however, told her the hospital didn’t have the specialized equipment needed to fully explore her son’s medical options.

“They’re just basically like, ‘You’re blind. Go back to prison.’ They didn’t even do all the tests,” she said, adding that her family has even offered to cover the costs of a second opinion and a specialist.

The department called Richards’ claims inaccurate. Spokesman Brian Connett said Williams has had the chance to see an ophthalmologist and would be allowed to see a specialist if a doctor ordered it.

“He’s getting the medical care that the hospital is determining, not the department of corrections,” he said.

But medical care is only the first of Richards’ complaints, which she described as civil rights violations.

She said that the family has been interviewing different attorneys and that prison officials would not let a lawyer visit Williams at the hospital — a claim that Connett also denied.

Henderson attorney Alexis Plunkett confirmed that the department refused to allow Williams legal visits. She said she was turned away by hospital and prison officials, a move she believes is intended to “isolate the victim.”

Richards also said the prison said she could talk to her son every other day while he was in the hospital, and corrections officials broke that promise. She said calls every morning mostly go unreturned.

Connett also denied that claim, saying the department has gone beyond accommodations normally made to prisoners.

“She talked to him at least twice,” he said.

One of the saddest parts of the story, Richards said, is that her son likely was going to be released in the next few months.

Williams, legally named Stacey Michael Richards, pleaded guilty to a robbery charge in 2012 and faced a minimum sentence of 2½ years, according to Clark County court records.

Richards said her son was moved from facility to facility, but as a nonviolent offender, he never should have been placed in a maximum security prison.

Richards, who lives in Southern California, said she could not make it to Nevada for the court proceedings, but her understanding is that her son basically stole a cellphone.

“I’m just a mother,” she said. “I understand he made a mistake and had to pay his debt to society. He was well on his way to get out.”

“All (the prison) says is ‘I’m sorry.’ They just want to sweep it under the rug.”

About eight other inmates also were injured by the shotgun blast, corrections officials said in a release Wednesday night, but their injuries were described as minor. The inmates were treated by prison medical staff and declined further treatment, the department said.

The incident began when four prisoners attacked one inmate during “open tier time,” the department said. Officers gave verbal commands to stop fighting and get on the floor, and all of the prisoners complied except two who kept fighting.

After additional commands by the officer to cease fighting, an officer fired a blank warning shot and then shot a shell consisting of birdshot in the direction of the two fighters, which the department said is in accordance with their policy.

Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Find him on Twitter: @WesJuhl.

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The Nevada prison where a handcuffed inmate was killed by a guard with a shotgun has an unusually high number of incidents of corrections officers firing guns, despite the vast majority of lockups nationwide not allowing anyone to even carry guns.

Crime Scene Body Outline.jpg-500x400LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Nevada prison where a handcuffed inmate was killed by a guard with a shotgun has an unusually high number of incidents of corrections officers firing guns, despite the vast majority of lockups nationwide not allowing anyone to even carry guns.

Between 2007 and 2011, Nevada Department of Corrections statistics show shots were fired by High Desert State Prison guards more than any other type of force, except for using their hands. Guards fired guns 215 times between 2007 and 2011. That includes 60 shots in 2011 — the most recent year figures were available. A baton or taser appear to have never been used.

Nevada Department of Corrections says it doesn’t comment on pending investigations and didn’t answer questions about its use of force and weapons policies.

Nevada prison system announces 2 more inmate deaths

Nevada medical chief gives OK to state prisons food

CARSON CITY — Nevada’s correctional institutions are all up-to-date on inspections for cleanliness and safety as well as diet and food preparation, the state’s chief medical officer said Thursday.

“These inspections review prisoner diets to ensure specialized diets are available to patients, for example low-sodium diets/menus are available for prisoners with cardiac disease,” said Dr. Tracey Green, chief medical officer for the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

“The chief medical officer has not identified any concerns to include in her reports to the Board of Prison Commissioners.”

Green’s statement came a week after a panel of the Nevada Supreme Court reversed a district court and ordered it to compel the state’s chief medical officer to examine and report on the nutritional adequacy of the diet of prison inmates as required by state law.

The case was brought by Robert Leslie Stockmeier, an inmate at Lovelock Correctional Center in Northern Nevada, who said Green was not fulfilling her duties to review inmate diets and report her findings to the state prisons board.

A Carson City District Court dismissed Stockmeier’s case, but a three-member panel of the Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding that Green’s examination of inmate diets and her resulting report to the board “fell well short of what was required.”

Green said the inspections are up-to-date from fiscal years 2011 to 2014 from the Nevada Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance under her direction, including sanitation, healthfulness, cleanliness and safety.

“Going forward, HCQC plans to better document how the review takes place,” she said in response to the court ruling. “In the past, records would only reflect deficient practices rather than demonstrate areas of compliance.”

Green said she will continue to comply with law and any additional direction from the District Court.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

3rd Nevada inmate in a week dies in custody

3rd Nevada inmate in a week dies in custody

An inmate who was denied cataract surgery by the Nevada Department of Corrections and won an appeals court ruling about it died this week, the Nevada Department of Corrections reported Wednesday.

John Colwell, 67, died at High Desert State Prison from what corrections officials called a chronic medical condition. His death was the third inmate death reported in a week by the state.

Colwell was serving multiple life sentences for first-degree murder and kidnapping. He was also serving 15 years each for robbery and the use of a deadly weapon.

While he was in prison, the man’s treating doctors recommended surgery for his cataract problems years ago but the department of correction’s “one eye policy,” which allowed them to deny him treatment because he has a single functional eye.

According to court records, Colwell developed cataracts in both eyes. He had injured himself several times because of this, including running his hand through a sewing machine and splitting open his forehead on aconcrete block.

Colwell had been in the Nevada prison system since 1991.

Contact reporter Annalise Little at alittle@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0391. Find her on Twitter: @annalisemlittle.

The Department of Corrections Administration Building in Carson City was evacuated Wednesday morning after employees discovered a white powder in a piece of mail.

ImageThe Department of Corrections Administration Building was evacuated Wednesday morning after employees discovered a white powder in a piece of mail.

Capitol Police Chief Jerome Tushbant said investigators quickly determined that the powder was not dangerous and not a threat to health or safety.

The case was being investigated by the Capitol Police, which has responsibility for the building, one of several used by state agencies at the Stewart complex along the southern border of Carson City.

Corrections spokesman Brian Connett said the building was evacuated as a precaution.

Tushbant said investigators are working to confirm the identity of the person who sent the white powder.

“It’s non-hazardous,” he said.

He declined to give further details, saying the case is under investigation.

Are Nevada State Employees Being Bullied?

RGJ Opnion

RGJ Opinion “Letter to Editor”

opinion shopThe Governor’s Office would have you believe that a joint task force between the Department of Public Safety – Division of Parole and Probation, and the Department of Corrections are working together to integrate Parole functions into the NDOC. Wrong! The task force is comprised of a select few command staff, who were blindsided and ordered to facilitate this proposed transition without opposition, despite high costs and lack of practicality.

Is the Division of Parole and Probation command staff being politically bullied to support the Governor’s proposal to transfer the Parole functions over to the Department of Corrections?

Are involved State employees being “frowned upon” for exercising their First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech, in an effort to avoid embarrassing the Governor’s Office? Continue reading