Class action OK’d for Ely prison lawsuit

With thanks to Nevada Prisoner Voice

Apr. 01, 2009
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Class action OK’d for Ely prison lawsuit

Inmates claim inadequate medical care at facility constitutes cruel, unusual punishment

RENO — A federal judge in Nevada on Tuesday certified class action status for a lawsuit filed by inmates who claim inadequate medical care at Ely State Prison constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and civil rights violations.

In his 14-page order, U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks appointed attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union to represent “all prisoners who are now, or in the future will be, in the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections” at the state’s maximum security prison.

The ACLU filed suit against the prison in March 2008 on behalf of several inmates.

It alleges that deprivation of medical care is so extreme that all inmates are subjected to “constant significant risk of serious injury, medical harm, premature death, and the needless infliction of great physical pain and suffering.”

The ACLU seeks a court-ordered monitor to oversee care at the prison on grounds that the Corrections Department has not provided adequate medical care to the 1,000 inmates, including those on death row.

“The ACLU of Nevada is heartened by the order, which indicates that the federal court is taking allegations of substandard medical care at Ely State Prison very seriously,” ACLU attorney Lee Rowland said in a statement.

The class action certification, Rowland said, “will permit us to look into the conditions at Ely State Prison in a thorough and thoughtful manner and get the best evidence before the federal court.”

The suit names as defendants members of Nevada’s Prison Board — Gov. Jim Gibbons, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller. Also named are Howard Skolnik, Department of Corrections director; Robert Bannister, corrections medical director; and E.K. McDaniel, the warden at Ely.

Skolnik said Tuesday he had not seen the latest filing and had no comment.

State officials have earlier defended medical practices at Ely, saying they met constitutional standards.

“The operations of an infirmary in a prison are different than working in a hospital,” Skolnik said previously.

Hicks’ ruling comes a week after he refused to dismiss a separate lawsuit alleging prison and medical staff deliberately withheld medical treatment from the former manager of the 1950s Coasters music group, leading to his slow and painful death from gangrene while on death row in Nevada.

That suit, filed by the family of Patrick Cavanaugh, seeks unspecified general, special and punitive damages. Cavanaugh, a diabetic, died in 2006 at age 60.

In Dec. 2007, the ACLU released a report written by Dr. William Noel claiming a pattern of “gross medical abuse” at the prison.

Noel said he reviewed the medical records of 35 Ely inmates, including Cavanaugh. In his report, he described treatment as “the most shocking and callous disregard for human life and human suffering, that I have ever encountered in the medical profession in my 35 years of practice.”

See also: Ely Times.