Two handcuffed Nevada state prisoners held in administrative segregation at the high-security High Desert State Prison were shot by guards on November 12, 2014 after they began fighting, allegedly after those same guards deliberately encouraged them to fight. The shooting resulted in the resignation of the guards involved as well as a wrongful death lawsuit and criminal charges against a trainee guard.
Carlos Manuel Perez, Jr., 28, was killed after being shot with a shotgun in the head and chest, while the other prisoner, Andrew Jay Arevalo, then 25, was hospitalized with facial wounds. [See: PLN, Nov. 2015, p.63].
Allegedly, two Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) guards, Jeff Castro and Isaiah Smith, and an NDOC trainee, Raynaldo-John Ramos, deliberately caused a conflict between the two prisoners, culminating in Ramos opening fire with a shotgun.
Immediately following the killing, Arevalo was administratively charged by prison officials with Perez’s murder. That charge, later overturned, is believed by the families of both men to be a clear indication of an attempted cover-up.
Ramos was dismissed by the NDOC in the spring of 2015. Castro and Smith tendered their resignations in May of that year; following an administrative review, both were accused of neglect and making false statements about the shooting.
In April 2016, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt filed criminal charges against Ramos, accusing him of involuntary manslaughter and reckless disregard resulting in death in connection with shooting Perez. Both are felony charges and, if convicted, Ramos faces up to nine years in prison.
Perez’s family filed a lawsuit in April 2015 in Clark County District Court against Castro, Smith and Ramos, as well as the state of Nevada, then-NDOC director James Greg Cox (who abruptly resigned in September 2015) and the warden, assistant warden and a lieutenant at High Desert State Prison. The suit alleges deliberate indifference to Perez’s medical needs, negligent training and supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The attorney representing Perez’s family, Cal Potter, contended the guards had purposely allowed Perez and Arevalo to confront each other in a shower hallway, despite knowing that they would fight.
“Officers know they will see a fight if they release ad seg [administrative segregation] inmates that are supposed to be in walk-alone status,” Potter said. “Defendants [the officers] ... refused to intervene. On the contrary, they created a gladiator-like scenario and allowed the inmates to fight.”
During the civil litigation, internal NDOC documents were made publicly available. In April 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Gordon unsealed prison disciplinary records, which placed the blame for the shooting incident on the guards involved.
The documents indicated that the guards had violated protocol by allowing Perez and Arevalo, while handcuffed, to walk down a corridor without supervision – apparently a practice known as “catch and pitch.” During the walk, the two prisoners began to “fight by kicking one another and elbowing one another.”
“This fight led another officer [Ramos] to fire a blank round and four live birdshot rounds at these fighting inmates which resulted in the hospitalization of inmate Arevalo and the death of inmate Perez,” the internal prison records stated.
While the NDOC placed much of the blame for the shooting on Castro and Smith, neither has been charged with any crime. And although Ramos is being prosecuted for killing Perez, he was not charged in relation to the injuries inflicted on Arevalo, who has since filed his own lawsuit.
Also at issue is why guards in a secure area of the prison were permitted to carry guns, which is a violation of policy in most penal facilities. Typically, prison officials do not allow weapons to be carried into lock-ups due to the possibility of prisoners overpowering employees and taking their firearms.
Prison experts note there are many alternatives to the use of deadly force that can be used in a prison setting.
PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann was critical of the NDOC’s regulations on use of deadly force. “If you’re going to use deadly force, you’re going to want to have some pretty clear guidelines for your staff,” he said in a news report.
“[Use of deadly force] has to be grounded in policy guidelines,” added Potter. “They’re using deadly force when less than lethal force should be used.... All they [the prisoners] can do is kick. They’re handcuffed behind their backs.”
The NDOC changed its policy on the use of shotguns in May 2016. According to records released through the lawsuit filed by Perez’s family, there is a history of guards shooting at prisoners at the High Desert State Prison, with guards opening fire 215 times during a five-year period. Guards at Nevada’s other 17 state prisons combined fired only 125 shots during that same period of time.
The lawsuit over Perez’s death remains pending in federal district court. See: Perez v. Cox, U.S.D.C. (D. Nev.), Case No. 2:15-cv-01572-APG-CWH.
Sources: Associated Press, www.journalreview.com, www.abcnews.go.com, www.elkodaily.com
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Related legal case
Perez v. Cox
|U.S.D.C. (D. Nev.), Case No. 2:15-cv-01572-APG-CWH