Lawmakers, prisons silent on alleged assaults of inmates 

Lawmakers, prisons silent on alleged assaults of inmates 

(Nevada Department of Corrections photo)

Women who testified Tuesday before state legislators that their loved ones in prison had been beaten by corrections officers upon transfer to the state penitentiary in Ely this week say they’ve heard nothing from lawmakers, and fear their public pleas not only fell on deaf ears but may also have put their loved ones in more peril. 

On Monday, the Nevada Department of Corrections confirmed a series of assaults on correctional officers in recent days, which led to a system-wide lockdown. 

“After a series of staff assaults last week, all Nevada Department of Corrections facilities were placed on lock down Thursday evening through the weekend,” public information officer William Quenga told the Current via email Monday. “The Department cannot comment further as this is an active case under review.” 

One attack took place last week at High Desert Correctional Center near Indian Springs in Southern Nevada, according to a person within the department. Two guards were taken by ambulance to local hospitals. Another attack took place Friday at Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City. 

The attackers, members of the Surenos, a gang affiliated with the Mexican Mafia, were transferred to Ely State Prison, a maximum security penitentiary, according to the same source.

On Tuesday, members of Return Strong, an inmate advocacy organization, told the Assembly Judiciary Committee their loved ones were assaulted by prison staff upon arrival in Ely. 

The women testified using aliases because they didn’t want their loved ones identified and targeted.

One woman told lawmakers her brother was questioned by guards about his knowledge of the assault on corrections staff at Warm Springs. 

“My brother told me that he had known something happened at Warm Springs before he was transferred, but he didn’t know exactly what,” she said. 

“He repeatedly told the officers that he didn’t know anything, but they slammed him down against the floor and repeatedly beat and kicked him, along with other prisoners — one of whom was only 18 years old — while they were handcuffed at the wrists and ankles,” she told lawmakers, as reported by This is Reno. “He’s covered in bruises on his shoulders, arms, ribs and legs. He was so afraid because he believed he was going to be killed. “ 

The Nevada Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations. 

“Tuesday afternoon they told him he’s being investigated and he’s going to be charged in relation to the attack at Warm Springs on the guard,” the woman said during an interview Thursday.

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“They are in the hole. They were not given any of their belongings. The guards won’t say if they’re going to get them or not,” she says of the inmates, who were transferred from a variety of facilities, according to her brother. But all have one thing in common — they are Mexican. 

Ethnicity coupled with tattoos, the telltale sign of former gang affiliation, are enough to gain inmates passage this week on the train to the state’s maximum security penitentiary, the women say. 

“I would like them (legislators) or whoever can, to investigate this immediately,” the woman says. “Their injuries are healing. The staff won’t take pictures. Someone needs to take action now.” 

The Current asked members of the Assembly Judiciary if they were inquiring about the allegations. None responded.

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“Among the men who were beaten along with my brother, there was a man who was beaten so badly he had to be flown out in a helicopter,” she says. 

Another woman says her loved one and other inmates were left outside for hours upon arrival in Ely, where the high temperature reaches 30 degrees and the lows are in the teens, and shackled in wheelchairs before being beaten by guards. 

“I’ve never heard him scared in my life. It breaks your heart,” she said. “Most of them are very sick from what I know. They haven’t given them clothes to change.” 

Jodi Hocking, director of Return Strong, an advocacy group for inmates and their loved ones, fears the state’s failure to address inmate grievances, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, has fostered an environment of unrest, resulting in the attacks on corrections officers. 

Inmates, their loved ones say, have been left to fend for themselves during the pandemic — some having to resuscitate their own cellmates “because Medical wouldn’t come.” 

“I’m not surprised it boiled over,” Hocking said Thursday. “You can’t treat people like animals. Now it’s become a witch hunt because the prison department has decided it was a coordinated statewide attack.” 

The ACLU of Nevada is investigating to determine whether there’s cause for legal action. The organization did not respond to requests for comment.

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