Inmate at High Desert State Prison was serving life sentences with parole
LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — An inmate at High Desert State Prison has died by suicide, the 8 News Now Investigators have learned.
James Chavez, 47, died on Jan. 18, according to the Clark County coroner’s office. The cause of death for Chavez was listed as “hanging” inside the prison infirmary, records show.
Chavez was serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole for three counts of sexual assault of a victim under the age of 16. He was convicted in Washoe County. He began serving his sentence in 2007, according to Nevada Department of Corrections records.
The 8 News Now Investigators reached out to the Nevada Department of Corrections about the death of Chavez and to ask what measures are in place to prevent inmate suicides. In an email, a spokesperson wrote that there were no warning signs leading up to the death of Chavez and that he made no requests for mental health services.
“All inmates have access to kites, emergency kites, unit officers, etc., if they need emergent mental health care,” Deputy Director William Quenga wrote. “For inmates who do have an identified mental health need or history, they are seen on a regular basis by mental health, psychiatry or psychiatric nursing.”
In September 2022, two inmates at High Desert State Prison died by suicide within 24 hours. The 8 News Now Investigators learned that the warden informed employees of changes inside the prison four days later, and the medical director of the Nevada Department of Corrections advised staff he was resigning five days later.
David Thompson, 38, died by hanging on Sept. 7. He was serving time for robbery with the use of a deadly weapon, according to Nevada Department of Corrections records. His sentence would have been completed in 2028.
Deryl Dent, 32, died by hanging on Sept. 8. He was serving time for attempted battery and battery causing substantial bodily harm, according to NDOC records. His sentence would have been completed in 2023.
In a memo to staff obtained by the 8 News Now Investigators, Warden Calvin Johnson listed restrictive housing changes and security updates. They included daily group tours conducted every day by prison leaders and staff, including medical, tours by the deputy director, health and welfare count training for all staff, and supervisory oversight to ensure 30-minute irregular checks in restrictive housing.
An internal memo stated, “The officer must observe every offender every 30 minutes to determine health and welfare and log into the 30 Minute Rounds logbook.” The warden also added health and welfare counts three times a day in addition to regular counts.
“If any offender in restrictive housing does not come out of their cell for three consecutive days, on the third day the offender will be removed for a mental health evaluation and the cell will be searched,” the memo stated.
For anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide, call, text, or chat with a crisis counselor at 988. To learn more about the Office of Suicide Prevention, visit this link.