Riot and Escape at Nevada Prison Lead to Charges Against Four Guards, Firings or Resignations of Top Officials
by David M. Reutter
Some recreation was suspended at Nevada’s Southern Desert Correctional Center [SDCC] after 20 prisoners got into a brawl on October 10, 2022. The violence carried echoes of a riot involving at least 40 prisoners on December 8, 2021.
Eight of those 40 were indicted on a misdemeanor charge of rioting, filed in Las Vegas Justice Court on November 10, 2022. By then, four guards had also been charged with using excessive force to put down the disruption. The riot also had career repercussions for two top DOC officials, one of whom resigned and the other was fired.
The state Department of Corrections (DOC) originally downplayed the 2021 incident as a “group disturbance.” But it later admitted that a review of security footage showed guards using “excessive and unauthorized force” against prisoners. As a result, four guards were charged on August 30, 2022, with battery, inhumanity to a prisoner and oppression under color of office.
One of them, Quentin Murphy, 37, was accused of twice pushing prisoner and alleged White supremacist gang leader Zackaria Luz, 41, knocking him into a wall during an escort to his cell. Murphy also allegedly watched without intervening or reporting when fellow guard Brayan Lopez kneed a second prisoner in the stomach.
Lopez was also charged, along with fellow guards Paul Bowerman and Timothy Smith. The latter two allegedly were in the area with Lopez and Murphy at the time, but neither reported use of force or even seeing force being used, according to charging documents.
Prisoners Jared Ayers, Javis Blake, Alexius Davis, Zackaria Luz, Dayveontay McClain, Dominic Porter, Nicholas Smith and Michael Wesley were also charged in the riot. DOC guards used Tasers, pepper balls, flashbangs and pepper-spray grenades before they entered the unit and restrained the prisoners, escorting them out due to damage they caused. Over 100 other prisoners were transferred to other lockups.
SDCC hit the news again after prisoner Porfirio Duerte-Herrara escaped on September 23, 2022, and officials then waited four days to announce the escape. Convicted of a 2007 pipe-bombing at the Luxor Casino and Hotel on the Las Vegas strip, the 42-year-old reportedly used acid to erode his cell’s window covering, creating a hole large enough to climb through. Once outside the cell, he used a jacket he sewed in a prison class to scale two barbed wire fences that surround the prison’s perimeter. He was recaptured on September 28, 2022, after an employee at a Las Vegas shuttle outfit recognized the prisoner as he tried to catch a bus to Mexico. For that tip, the employee was promised a $30,000 reward.
Both the riot and escape are an indication that guard stress has led to operational oversights, according to Paul Lunkwitz, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Nevada prison guards. He said no guard was posted in the tower near the location where Duarte-Herrera climbed the fence and escaped.
“The [DOC] knew something like this was probably going to happen,” Lunkwitz said. “They have run these officers into the ground with mandatory overtime, short staffing them.”
SDCC got a new warden in January 2022: Gabriela Najera. Former Warden William Hutchings, who was then on leave, resigned on July 15, 2022, after reaching a severance agreement that allowed him to continue pulling his $127,000 annual salary and benefits until November 11, 2022.
On the heels of Duarte-Herrera’s escape, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) asked DOC Director Charles Daniels for his resignation. In response, Daniels hired an attorney, who claimed his client was being scapegoated and demanded $1,050,000 in severance pay in a letter to state Attorney General Aaron D. Ford (D) sent on October 28, 2022. Meanwhile former DOC Director James Dzurenda was reappointed to the post by Sisolak on January 5, 2023.
On December 19, 2022, former SDCC guard Richard Bogue was sentenced to a year of probation after he was convicted two months earlier of attacking prisoner Louis Taylor, 31, in March 2020.
“I had my hair pulled out,” Taylor told the sentencing court. “I suffered a back injury. I have to wear a back brace now. … I still haven’t received an apology from [Brogue], and he still shows no remorse for what he did to me.”
Lunkwitz had no comment; the union stopped representing the guard when he was fired by DOC after the assault. Brogue – who yelled racist epithets at Taylor while beating him with a baton before ripping out his hair and bashing his head into a wall – blamed his conduct on grief over family deaths. “It’s been a rough couple of years,” he said.
Sources: KLAS, Las Vegas Review-Journal
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