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Why Did This Nevada Prison Have More Than 200 Shooting Incidents in Five Years?

Inmates claim guards at High Desert State Prison use their guns to break up fights and don't give medical treatment to prisoners injured by birdshot.

by Mike Pearl
Apr 16 2015, 6:40pm

Screencap via Google Earth

A recent series of lawsuits over gun violence in a Nevada state prison just outside Las Vegas have turned the spotlight on the sheer number of triggers being pulled at the facility. Somehow, guns have been fired more than 200 times over a recent five-year period, according to records uncovered by Nevada State Senator Richard S. "Tick" Segerblom.

High Desert State Prison made the news earlier this month when a lawsuit was filed in state court on April 7. The suit, filed by the family of slain inmate Carlos Manuel Perez Jr., accused guards at the facility of creating a "gladiator-like" combat situation in which two cuffed prisoners—Perez and Andre Jay Arevalo—were allowed to fight before a guard opened fire on the men with a shotgun, killing Perez and wounding Arevalo.

More troubling than the isolated incident is the fact that a lot of shootings happen at High Desert, which is the largest facility in the state system. According to numbers given by Segerblom to the AP, there were 215 shots fired at the prison from 2006 to 2011—compared with only 124 in the state's 21 other prisons over the same period.

CJ Potter, the lawyer for Perez's family, told VICE he hadn't heard about the number of shooting incidents at High Desert until he read the AP story, but he confirmed that he now has a total of seven clients who are High Desert inmates. "It seems to be a pervasive problem," he said. "In the past couple days I've been contacted by inmates who have nightmares of their white prison shirts turning red or copper from blood."

Related: Watch our prison correspondent attempt to navigate life after incarceration:

One of Potter's clients, Dario Olivas, was shot in one eye and blinded when a guard allegedly use shotgun fire to break up a fight between two other prisoners. Potter said his clients claim that guards who cause non-life-threatening injuries with shotgun blasts "refuse to remove the birdshot even though it's causing them pain."

High Desert State Prison officials did not return requests for comment about these allegations.

When asked if he planned to bring a class action lawsuit against the Nevada Department of Corrections, Potter said he didn't know, but he added he'd be pleased if he could "change the way things are done, and bring some accountability."

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