by Ashleigh N. Dye
At the request of former Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), the director of the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC), Charles Daniels, submitted his resignation on September 30, 2022. The move came three days after a head count at Southern Desert Correctional Center (SDCC) revealed that a bombmaker responsible for a fatal 2007 Las Vegas explosion had gone missing and unnoticed for four days.
The convicted murderer, Porfirio Duarte-Herrera, 42, was able to escape from SDCC on September 23, 2022, by making a dummy under his bed covers. He then passed by an unmanned security tower that had been empty for years due to staffing shortages. For reasons unknown, his disappearance went undetected for four days.
When he was finally missed on September 27, 2022, Sisolak vowed that “those who are responsible will be held responsible.” He then asked for Daniels’ immediate resignation. Six other DOC staffers were put on administrative leave as the investigation into the escape continued. Thanks to a tip from a ticket clerk, Duarte-Herrera was captured at a Las Vegas bus station trying to board a bus to Mexico the next day, September 28, 2022.
At the beginning of November 2022, another rift opened between Sisolak’s office and Daniels. The former DOC director alleged he was told to falsify details about the escape of the bombmaker. The Nevada governor’s Chief of Staff shot back that Daniels demanded $1 million in severance pay or he would take his story about the falsification request to the press. It is not clear if Daniels and his attorney, Craig Marquiz, have filed a legal claim against the state.
The incident provided campaign fodder for Sisolak’s GOP opponent in his re-election bid. “Infrastructure issues and prison system staffing issues, the ability for [Duarte-Herrera] to do it – from what I’ve been told – as simply as he did it is a grave concern to me and the entire law enforcement community and the community as a whole,” said Joe Lombardo, who went on to defeat Sisolak in November 2022.
On January 5, 2023, former DOC director James Dzurenda returned to lead the agency, which had been reeling in the wake of the Duarte-Herrera escape and controversy about use of force, lack of transparency, lack of health care, overuse of solitary confinement, conditions of confinement and staffing shortages.
In a February 2023 appearance before the state Assembly Judiciary Committee, Dzurenda said state prisons need repairs, including holes under fences caused by mountain rain runoff. Meanwhile he is focused on reviving programs that take advantage of volunteers, family and other organizations to help released prisoners as they re-enter society.
Sources: KLAS, KSNV, US News, USA Today
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