May 18, 2016 - 3:42 pm
A former correctional officer trainee at High Desert State Prison appeared in court Wednesday to face two felonies in the shooting death of an inmate.
Raynaldo John Ruiz “R.J.” Ramos, 37, faces one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of performance of an act in reckless disregard of persons or property resulting in the death of Carlos Perez, a 28-year-old inmate who was killed while handcuffed behind his back during a Nov. 12, 2014, scuffle with another inmate.
Prosecutors and Ramos’ defense attorney, Josh Tomsheck, declined to comment outside of the brief court hearing before Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Cynthia Cruz.
The judge set Ramos’s next appearance for August.
Attorney General Adam Laxalt said last month that criminal charges were filed “based on the available evidence.”
If convicted, Ramos could face two to nine years in prison.
Ramos, who was a probationary employee, was terminated in spring 2015. Two other former correctional officers implicated in the shooting, Jeff Castro and Isaiah Smith, resigned in May 2015.
Neither Castro nor Smith were charged criminally, though internal disciplinary documents from the Nevada Department of Corrections released in a lawsuit said they were culpable.
Prosecution of prison officers for use of force is rare, though not unheard of. In 2007, Paul Chaffee, a former guard at High Desert State Prison, was acquitted on a charge of battery with a deadly weapon for wounding inmate Donald Hixon during a shooting in December 2006.
The criminal charges against Ramos come more than a year after the shooting at the prison about 40 miles north of Las Vegas near Indian Springs. Another inmate, Andrew Arevalo, was shot in the face but survived.
The shooting happened in a hallway in a segregation unit known as “the hole,” where inmates are supposed to be kept separated because of security or safety issues.
Perez died at the scene, and the Department of Corrections reported the death the next day. But the fact that Perez was shot by staff was not revealed until four months later, when the Clark County coroner said he died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head, neck and chest and ruled his death a homicide.
Two lawsuits are pending, one filed by Perez’s family, the other by Arevalo, now incarcerated at Ely State Prison. The Perez lawsuit, filed by Las Vegas attorney Cal Potter III, claims wrongful death and names Ramos, Castro, Smith, the state and prison administrators as defendants.
Prison administration disciplinary reports unsealed in April by U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon, who is overseeing the Perez lawsuit, put the blame for the shooting on Castro and Smith for failing to follow protocol.
Castro was singled out for allowing the two handcuffed inmates into a hallway between a shower area and their cells at the same time, a violation of segregation procedures.
That report further concluded that had Castro followed regulations, Ramos ”would not have used the shotgun to quell the fight.”
Smith’s employee misconduct report said he knew Castro previously moved multiple inmates at a time but failed to report the security breach.
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