Slaughter v. Escamilla
Update, our firm secured a reverse and remand of this case at the Nevada Appellate Court. You can read the order here.
“We knew this was going to happen. That’s why we opened it up. Didn’t you see me watching you guys earlier in the unit?”
This recorded statement by Lieutenant Jeremy Bean to prisoner Rickie Slaughter during Slaughter’s disciplinary hearing revealed that prison officials at High Desert State Prison instigated a riot on June 16, 2014.
A few days prior, a violent fight had occurred between Latino and Black prisoners, so Lieutenant Bean and his co-workers orchestrated the June 16th riot to identify the perpetrators of the previous fight.
Prison officials lifted the lockdown order that had been placed after the initial incident and allowed prisoners to congregate on the rec yard. Once the prisoners were on the yard, an officer gathered them on the basketball court, and another officer shouted, “You guys might as well fight now and get it over with.” Then violence erupted, and a race riot ensued.
During this riot, officers fired pellets from their shotguns at the prisoners to subdue the violence.
Slaughter, who was not involved in the fight, was struck by a shotgun blast. As soon as he was first struck, he laid on the ground. Subsequently, he was shot by crossfire and buck shots from the officers’ shotguns. He lost consciousness and suffered gunshot wounds to his face, head, arms, legs, hands, and back.
Currently, 17 or more pellets are still lodged in Slaughter’s forehead, skull, and underneath his right eyelid, causing deformities to his facial features. And he suffers extreme migraines from the pellets lodged in his head.
To add insult to injury, prison officials alleged that Slaughter participated in the riot. Lieutenant Bean, the same Lieutenant Bean who confessed to Slaughter that he had instigated the riot, found Rickie Slaughter guilty of assault, battery, gang activities, and rioting or inciting others to riot. As a result, Slaughter lost 180 days of good behavior credit, spent 16 months in the hole, and was immediately transferred from medium-security High Desert State Prison to a maximum-security facility in Ely, Nevada.
Rickie Slaughter could have simply accepted his injuries and punishment. He’s a prisoner; it would be a herculean task for a prisoner to take on prison officials. However, Rickie Slaughter is extraordinary, and he has shown himself capable of doing what might seem impossible. In his pursuit of justice, he exhausted the prison’s administrative procedures, and then, acting as his own lawyer, he filed a lawsuit against Lieutenant Bean, the warden of High Desert State Prison, and the correctional officers who instigated the violence and shot him.
Impressively, Slaughter wrote a persuasive legal complaint. He made three claims in his lawsuit:
- Prison officials violated his 8th Amendment rights prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment through their deliberate indifference. Additionally, these officials conspired to violate his 8th Amendment rights.
- His due process rights were violated in his disciplinary hearings because prison officials would not allow him to call witnesses who would have testified that he did not participate in the riot.
- The prison officials were negligent, and their negligence caused Slaughter’s injuries.
Not only did he compose a compelling narrative, but he also accurately cited relevant case law to substantiate his claims.
In the Seventh District Court of Nevada, Slaughter prevailed on his second claim that his due process rights were violated. His good behavior credit was reinstated, but he had to endure the other punishments that resulted from the false allegation that he participated in the riot. Consequently, Slaughter litigated this claim in federal court, but he lost that case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.
Now, his only hope for justice is to prevail on the remaining two claims.
The Defendants, represented by the Attorney General’s Office of Nevada, filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed. Nevada law states that a motion to dismiss should fail if any of the allegations in the complaint would entitle the plaintiff to relief. At this point in a civil suit, the alleged facts must be taken as true. Given that Slaughter alleged he was an innocent bystander who suffered significant injuries because of the deliberate actions of Lieutenant Bean and other staff members, as a matter of law, his case should not have been dismissed. However, in 2017, Judge Ronald Israel granted the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Again, Slaughter could have accepted his fate, but he immediately appealed the decision.
Rickie Slaughter’s case exposes many of today’s prevalent social justice issues. Correctional officers should be held accountable when they abuse their power. Often, society ignores prisoners’ rights, but justice requires the humane treatment of all people, including prisoners. Officers should not be allowed to deliberately incite violence and put the well-being of those in custody at risk. A prisoner who was obeying orders should not have 17 pellets lodged in his face.
Also, Rickie Slaughter is a Black man, and his race made him a more likely target. While the correctional officers would likely claim that his race is irrelevant, empirical data suggests that the implicit biases of those officers made them more apt to assume that, as a Black man, Rickie Slaughter was a violent perpetrator.
For good reason, the media and general public have been expressing outrage at the stories of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; however, stories like Rickie Slaughter’s garner little public attention. But like their stories, Rickie’s is emblematic of deficiencies in our law enforcement and criminal justice system. Hopefully Rickie will finally get his justice. And hopefully sharing his story will serve as a catalyst for reform.