LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The 8 News Now I-Team has uncovered disturbing details about what appears to be a cover-up at Southern Desert Correctional Center.
On December 8, inmates at the medium-security prison caused a riot.
Later that day, the State Department of Corrections issued a press release calling what unfolded a disturbance.
Paul Lunkwitz is the president of a union that represents correctional officers and described his thoughts on the incident.
“Every officer who saw that was like this is the biggest slap in the face I’ve ever seen in my life,” Lunkwitz said. “This was beyond a bad situation.”
For five months, the 8 News Now I-Team has been digging to uncover what really happened.
Recently, a statement was issued on the matter from the Department of Corrections.
The Nevada Department of Corrections and the Nevada Attorney General’s Office are investigating officer conduct and offender behavior during a disturbance at Southern Desert Correctional Center on Dec. 8, 2021. The incident occurred when nearly 25 inmates in one unit at Southern Desert Correctional Center refused to enter their cells or follow orders. The offenders also started two small fires, which were extinguished before causing significant damage. Minor injuries were reported and treated onsite. The investigation is ongoing, and no further details are available at this time.
Nevada Dept. of Corrections
The 8 News Now I-Team learned inmates unlocked their own cells from the inside, refused orders, covered surveillance cameras, flooded the area with water, and took control of an entire prison unit.
Inmates also used a metal bunk bed frame to block an entrance.
When officers were able to enter in, they lined up in formation. The inmates mimicked the officers, with their own formation, some of them were armed with prison-made weapons such as shanks, threatening to kill the staff.
The ringleader was a known member of the white supremacist Aryan warrior gang.
“Every single person that I talked to expressed the same thing,” Lunkwitz said. “I didn’t know if I was going home to my family that night, I didn’t know if we all were going to make it out alive.”
The I-Team learned tasers were used, along with pepper balls, flashbangs and grenades with spray to make it difficult for the inmates to see.
Officers report having trouble breathing because of the smoke from fires the inmates had set and pepper spray.
Lunkwitz says they didn’t have the resources they needed.
“They should be getting commendations, not investigations. They should all be awarded for the bravery that they showed in for fear of their life, for the situation like that, they proceeded and they got the job done,” he added.
The I-Team has also learned there was a scramble for officers to respond, they were called over from High Desert State Prison, and an employee was called in, during a sick day.
The Clark County Fire Department, Metro Police, and other departments were on standby to assist.
While publicly, the DOC claimed 20 to 25 inmates were responsible for what happened.
The I-Team has learned that internally, at least 40 inmates were considered to be direct participants, and the department had planned to move more than a hundred to other institutions.
While the DOC claimed minor injuries were treated on-site, the I-Team has learned an officer was hit in the head with a rock, and at least one inmate needed to go to the hospital.
Finally, the DOC also claimed the disturbance happened around 1 p.m. however, the I-Team has uncovered trouble started five to six hours earlier.
“They really don’t want anyone to know what’s going on out there. They don’t want anyone to know how badly they’re failing,” Lunkwitz tells the I-Team. “The accountability is zero for the administration.”
The I-Team has repeatedly requested interviews with prison leadership, however, the department continues to decline and ignore the requests.
The I-Team also reached out to the governor for a response, and his spokesperson says he doesn’t have anything to add. The governor’s statement is listed below.
The Governor doesn’t have anything additional to provide beyond what NDOC has already provided about the disturbance.
Office of Governor Steve Sisolak
There is also video of the incident, which the I-Team requested, along with other documents about the riot, however, the DOC has refused to provide that information. Their response to the request is listed below.
The I-Team attempted to speak with officers who responded during the riot, however, due to fear of retaliation many have chosen not to.
The I-Team also learned officers were told not to post about the riot on social media.