At least three of the six men who were injured back in 2012 when shotgun pellets were fired by guards in a Las Vegas penitentiary have filed lawsuits against those who pulled the trigger. It will most likely be a contentious case, with both sides seeking to target whether or not the reasoning was sound for the actions the guards took. The result could also have a ripple effect, not just here in Las Vegas, but throughout the country in terms of how prison staff will conduct themselves in high-pressure situations.
Back in January 2012, mealtime was going according to plan at High Desert State Prison. Then a scuffle broke out between inmates that eventually ended when guards fired their shotguns—loaded with nonlethal pellets—in an attempt to break things up. Unfortunately, six men who were not involved in the fight were also hit. One man, Dario Olivas, lost his vision.
The attorney representing Olivas, Cal Potter, is also the lawyer for another man with a similar story. Except, in Ryan Layman’s case, he contends he’s been the victim twice: in August of 2012 and then again in April of 2014. According to Layman, prison doctors wouldn’t remove the pellets that had lodged in his hand and leg.
Tuiofu Sooga has filed a lawsuit as well. Sooga alleges that during Thanksgiving dinner three years ago, a guard fired on him with pellets, striking him in the heart and liver. When he finally came to, the inmate says guards made him walk to the infirmary.
Michael Kane, the Las Vegas attorney who is representing Sooga in his case, has commented that it seems these facilities have a “shoot first” policy in place. Kane has also been retained by three others who were wounded back in January 2012 during a shooting that took place at breakfast.
Whether or not this is the case has yet to be proven. However, what we do know is that data from the Nevada Department of Corrections was acquired by state Senator Tick Segerblom. It shows a record of 215 shots being fired over five years in High Desert State Prison, between 2006 and 2011 (the last year data is available). 60 of those shots came just in 2011.To put those numbers into perspective, consider that only 124 shots were recorded across the 21 other prison facilities throughout Nevada during that same window.
Last November, High Desert State Prison received negative headlines when Andrew Jay Arevalo was wounded and Carlos Manuel Perez Jr. was killed during a shooting that took place in the shower hallway.
With nearly 4,200 prisoners considered to be medium and high-risk, the staff at High Desert State Prison certainly have their work cut out for them. The state’s maximum security prison only holds roughly 1,180.
That being said, if an investigation shows a group of guards who are trigger happy, the verdict could have sweeping effects. Like we said at the beginning, both sides will have to take aim at whether or not the steps taken by guards can be justified.