Lawyer: 'Indifference' led to inmate death, prison silence

AP News
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Posted: Mar 27, 2015 7:58 PM
Lawyer: 'Indifference' led to inmate death, prison silence

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A four-month wait for information about the death of a Nevada prison inmate who a witness said was handcuffed when he was shot to death by a guard stemmed from deliberate indifference by state officials, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, a lawyer for the dead man's family said Friday.

Carlos Manuel Perez Jr. was shot and killed Nov. 12 at High Desert State Prison outside Las Vegas.

Attorney Cal Potter said Perez's brothers were given conflicting statements during initial meetings with prison administrators, but they weren't told Perez had been shot.

"The dialogue stopped and questions remained unanswered until this week," Potter told The Associated Press. "The state turned its back on them when they were trying to find out what happened to their loved one.

"I think it's just deliberate indifference, and that they're not accountable to anyone, including the governor."

Sandoval responded through a spokeswoman that local, county and state authorities investigated the shooting, and state Attorney General Adam Laxalt will determine an appropriate course of action.

The attorney general received a report Thursday and was reviewing it, said Laxalt's spokeswoman, Patty Cafferata.

Deputy prisons chief Brian Connett defended the state Department of Corrections as a responsible steward of the safety and security of guards and inmates. The department is accountable to the state Board of Prison Commissioners — Sandoval, Laxalt and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske — as well as lawmakers at the state Legislature.

"I can't imagine we would have deliberate indifference to the safety and security of an inmate," Connett said. "We are sorry for the family's loss and wish that this had never happened."

Connett said the shooting came in response to two inmates fighting, but he said he couldn't provide more information about the death of Perez, 28, and the wounding of inmate and witness Andrew Jay Arevalo, 24, until the case is reviewed by Laxalt.

A Nov. 13 prisons office news release reported that Perez died, but not that Arevalo had been injured. The release said an autopsy would be conducted, and it made no mention of a shooting.

"We don't want those kinds of details out until the investigation is complete," Connett said Friday. "It doesn't matter if it comes out in 48 hours or months later. Our intent is to make sure the investigation is not negatively impacted by putting out information that could do that."

Three corrections officers remain on paid leave pending a decision, the prisons official said. He declined to release their names or describe their employment histories.

Arevalo's attorney, Alexis Plunkett, said her client and told her that he and Perez were handcuffed when they were shot. Plunkett said Arevalo "miraculously survived three shotgun blasts to the face," and she was preparing a lawsuit alleging excessive force.

The Clark County coroner ruled March 3 that Perez died of gunshot wounds to the head, neck, chest and arms. The finding became public on Wednesday. Potter said he was preparing a federal wrongful death lawsuit.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson investigates cases of deadly force involving local police officers in the county. But he said this week that because the prison shooting involved state corrections officers, his office wasn't involved and won't conduct a public airing of information.

"This was a state employee involved in a use-of-force on the job," Wolfson said. "It's the attorney general that investigates. It's the attorney general that would call for use-of-force review."

Potter said the Perez family has no confidence in the state investigations, which Connett said were conducted by the Department of Public Safety and prisons Inspector General Pamela Del Porto, with evidence collected by Las Vegas police crime scene investigators.

Potter said the attorney general has a conflict of interest deciding whether to prosecute a criminal case because he would also defend the state in civil wrongful death and excessive force lawsuits.

Las Vegas police logged a 9:44 p.m. Nov. 12 call from the prison about 45 miles from Las Vegas, but the department was not asked to send detectives, said Officer Larry Hadfield, a department spokesman.

Perez was a two-time felon, serving 18 months to four years in prison after pleading guilty in December 2012 in Las Vegas to battery causing substantial bodily harm for hitting a man in the head with a two-by-four piece of lumber.

Arevalo is serving two to six years in prison after pleading guilty in June 2013 in Las Vegas to burglary.