On July 13, 2004, racial tension at the High Desert State Prison in southern Nevada erupted into a deadly riot. The fighting, reportedly between Blacks and Hispanics on the rock-strewn recreation yard, left one prisoner dead and 18 others injured.
The battle began around 2 p.m. after hundreds of medium-security prisoners were released onto the yard for recreation. Dozens of prisoners fought during the 20-minute melee in which at least one prisoner used a rock to crush the skull of another prisoner, 25-year-old Joshua Muniz.
Guards quelled the riot by firing shotgun pellets into the crowd, according to Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) spokesman Howard Skolnik. Four prisoners were taken to an area hospital, including Muniz and another prisoner who was wounded in the leg by the shotgun blast.
Skolnik would only describe the riot as "racial in nature."
Guards at the prison had long warned that the rockssome of which measured up to 10-inches acrosscould be used as weapons. The guard's union lobbied unsuccessfully for nearly two years to have the rocks removed, prompting them in 2003 to file a grievance over the dangerous "rock problem."
Still, the yard remained littered with rocks, which the prisoners hurled at each other during the riot, said an unidentified guard at the prison. The guard also noted that the same two groups of prisoners had clashed and thrown rocks at each other just two days earlier.
Mercedes Maharis, a longtime prisoner advocate, criticized prison officials for not doing a better job of identifying rival prisoners and keeping them separated. "They let the wrong people out in the yard together," said Maharis.
The unidentified guard agreed. "This is negligence," he said. "The department could have removed the rocks to prevent this situation. I'm outraged. Enough is enough."
The Nevada Department of Public Safety is investigating the riot, but Maharis doubts an impartial probe will be conducted. "They're connected; one hand washes the other," Maharis said. "It's time that an outside agency comes to investigate."
Sources: Las Vegas Review-Journal, Associated Press
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