Frank Curreri, Review-Journal (NV), Jul. 15
One inmate was killed and 18 others were injured Tuesday after a racially charged riot at High Desert State Prison, prompting officials to indefinitely lock down the facility.
The melee erupted about 2 p.m. in an outdoor yard where hundreds of medium-security inmates had gathered for recreation. Dozens of inmates battled during the 20-minute free-for-all; at least one used a rock to crush the skull of a 22-year-old inmate, one corrections officer said.
The corrections officer, who requested anonymity, identified the victim as Joshua Muniz. Muniz pleaded guilty in 1998 to second-degree murder in what was described as a gang-related slaying in Lorenzi Park. Prison spokesman Howard Skolnik, however, did not confirm the identity of the deceased.
Corrections officers had long warned administrators at the Indian Springs facility that the rocks, some as large as 10 inches in diameter, might someday be used as weapons. Yet most of the rocks remained in the yard and served as ammunition for 200 inmates who hurled them during the riot, the corrections officer said.
Order was restored after corrections officials fired shotgun pellets into the crowd, Skolnik said.
Skolnik described the riot only as “racial in nature.” Hispanics and blacks were fighting, the corrections officer said.
Corrections officers were not injured, Skolnik said, but an inmate was shot in the leg. Four inmates were taken to the hospital.
“Nobody was seriously injured by gunshot that we’re aware of,” said Skolnik, who praised the officers’ handling of the ordeal at the facility, 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Longtime prisoner advocate Mercedes Maharis, however, blasted administrators for not doing a better job of identifying rival inmates and separating them.
The two groups of inmates who had sparked Tuesday’s clash had also tussled and thrown rocks at each other just two days earlier in the yard, said the corrections officer.
Said Maharis: “They (administrators) let the wrong people out in the yard together.”
The corrections officer agreed.
“This is negligence,” he said. “The (corrections) department could have removed the rocks to prevent this situation. I’m outraged. Enough is enough.”
The Nevada Department of Public Safety is investigating the riot, but spokeswoman Kim Evans declined comment Wednesday. Maharis said she has little faith that state officials will conduct an impartial probe, especially if the findings are damning to the Nevada Department of Corrections.
“They’re connected; one hand washes the other,” Maharis said of the relationship between the two agencies. “It’s time that an outside agency comes in to investigate.”
For nearly two years, the State of Nevada Employees Association Local 4041, on behalf of 120 corrections officers, had pushed for no rocks in the yard. The association filed a grievance with the state earlier this year, claiming the “rock problem” at High Desert State Prison was dangerous and needed to be remedied.
During the grievance proceedings, Warden James Schomig testified he had assigned prisoner work crews to pick up the rocks, according to documents filed earlier this year with the state Employee-Management Committee.
Schomig said he wanted to eventually have all of the rocks cemented, but said it might be impossible to eliminate the problem because of rainstorms that constantly unearthed new rocks. The committee that fielded the grievance ruled that the rocks were a safety concern, but that “the rock situation … is being adequately addressed.”
(Posted on July 16, 2004)
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