LAS VEGAS — A Nevada prison inmate who was wounded by shotgun blasts that killed another prisoner has accused the state Department of Corrections chief, supervisors and guards of deliberate indifference and use of excessive force for shooting inmates.
Prison and state officials didn’t immediately comment Wednesday on the lawsuit filed by Andrew Arevalo, a 24-year-old Las Vegas man whose lawyer said is currently serving 18 months in isolation at High Desert State Prison.
Arevalo was sentenced in 2013 to two to six years for a burglary conviction.
State Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s spokeswoman, Patty Cafferata, said the office hadn’t received the lawsuit and can’t comment on active litigation.
Attorney general deputies are reviewing findings of an investigation of the Nov. 12 shooting that wounded Arevalo and killed inmate Carlos Manuel Perez Jr., Cafferata said.
The case is one of several stemming from guards shooting inmates in Nevada.
“This is a horrible way to treat prison inmates,” said Alexis Plunkett, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on June 23 for Arevalo in Clark County District Court. “Shooting is no acceptable way to treat a human, no matter what we think that person may have done in their life.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages greater than $10,000 from corrections chief Greg Cox, High Desert State Prison Warden Dwight Neven, a prisons lieutenant and sergeant, three guards and — by last name only — the trainee who fired the shots. They’ll be defended by the state attorney general’s office.
The lawsuit came after a lawyer for Perez’s family filed a wrongful death action in April.
Attorney Cal Potter alleges in that case that guards created a “gladiator-like scenario” to let the two handcuffed inmates fight before the corrections officer trainee fired four shotgun blasts.
Potter and Plunkett say the fight and shooting occurred outside the view of security cameras in a shower hallway in administrative segregation — a part of the prison in Indian Springs dubbed “the hole” — where inmates are supposed to be kept apart for disciplinary reasons or safety.
“None of the defendants took any less-than-lethal steps to stop the fight,” Arevalo’s lawsuit alleges.
Instead, it said, the supervising guards stepped back, plugged their ears and ordered the trainee to open fire with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Cox has in other cases described a prisons policy that lets guards ricochet or “skip” birdshot pellets off the floor to induce inmates to comply with guards’ commands.
Prisoner advocates say the technique is used too often, spreads BB-sized pellets widely, and frequently injures uninvolved prisoners.
Data obtained by state Sen. Tick Segerblom show guards fired 215 shots at High Desert State Prison in a five-year span — including 60 in 2011, the latest figures available. A total of 124 shots were fired by guards at the state’s other 21 prison facilities during the same period.
Arevalo and Perez were on the hallway floor when they were wounded, mostly in the face and upper body, Arevalo’s lawsuit said.
“They were handcuffed behind their backs, unable to even use their hands to cover their faces from the shotgun blasts,” it said.
The Clark County coroner said March 3 that Perez died of gunshot wounds to the head, neck, chest and arms. His death was ruled a homicide.
Arevalo received similar wounds, and the lawsuit says pellets remain painfully lodged in his skin, gums and throat.