The Nevada Department of Corrections had an inmate escape from High Desert State Prison. The convicted murderer on the loose is Porfirio Duarte-Herrera, 42, who was sentenced to life without parole for a pipe-bombing in the Luxor Hotel parking lot, killing Willebaldo Dorantes Antonio in 2007.
Duarte-Herrera is described as being 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighing 135 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers are being vigilant and the U.S. Marshals are also involved in the search. Anyone who knows the whereabouts of Duarte-Herrera is advised to call 911, while taking precautions for personal safety, of course.
Nevada has made national headlines for almost nothing but murder in the last month. There is the still-sitting Democrat Public Administrator Robert Telles, who is charged with the politically-motivated homicide of Jeff German, a local investigative reporter. Telles was a Nevada Governor Sisolak (D) appointee to a state board. Then, an ex-deputy Attorney General was arrested for a 50-year-old cold case for the brutal slaying of a 19-year-old in Hawaii.
Now, there’s a murderer on the loose that escaped prison “over the weekend” says Sisolak,
“My office later learned that upon further investigation by the NDOC the inmate has been missing since early in the weekend,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a separate statement. “This is unacceptable.”
By “over the weekend” Sisolak means the inmate was last accounted for on Friday. Escape procedures were initiated at 8 am on Tuesday, an hour after Duarte-Herrera was discovered to be missing. This means the public was at risk for days ahead of the announcement or even the discovery of his absence.
A Sisolak Appointee
Just as Governor Sisolak had previously appointed accused murderer Robert Telles to a state board, Sisolak is also responsible for his 2019 Nevada Department of Corrections appointee, Director Charles Daniels.
Today, I announced the appointment of Charles Daniels to be the Director of the Nevada Department of Corrections. An over 30-year veteran of the correctional system, Charles has the experience and perspective necessary to improve NDOC’s operation and bring needed reform. pic.twitter.com/T1Rnovk3Ih
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) December 2, 2019
In the months following his appointment of Charles Daniels, Sisolak took to his official social media accounts to continue to support his selection for the position saying, “Director Daniels has the experience, the approach, and the temperament to get it done!”
ICYMI: Charles Daniels, the new Director of the NV Dep't of Corrections (@NevadaDOC), gave a wide-ranging interview about his long-term vision for our corrections system. There's a lot to do, but Director Daniels has the experience, the approach, & the temperament to get it done! https://t.co/1DlfCxC9Uc
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) March 4, 2020
But, none of that turned out to be true as Daniels’ tenure has been a failure, now culminating in serious public safety risks.
Prison’s Double Inmate Suicide
This year, High Desert State Prison had two inmates commit suicide within seven hours. The Medical Director for NDOC resigned shortly after the double suicide. Daniels’ response prompted a letter from the mental health and medical staff inside the prison to Governor Steve Sisolak regarding Daniels creating a hostile work environment at NDOC. The letter stated that in a meeting after the double suicides Daniels:
“…recited the 8th and 14th amendments and demanded that we all watch an outdated documentary from the 1980s about mental health in corrections…This was the beginning of a witch hunt and blame game.”
The letter to the Governor also said that the prison was critically understaffed, and recounts an additional meeting with Daniels also raising concerns that his behaviors were contributing to the department’s inability to retain staff. The employees wrote:
“In this meeting, his behavior became completely unhinged. Once again an hour later, he arrived at this meeting in an agitated, angry state which quickly escalated to rage as he screamed at the staff present in the room and pounded his fist on the podium.”
Two inmate suicides within 7 hours in same prison.
Two emergency meetings where staff say they were berated by the NV state prison director.
— Vanessa_Murphy (@Vanessa_Murphy) September 21, 2022
Critical Staffing Shortages
At the beginning of 2022, NDOC had a 23 percent staffing vacancy rate, and the Governor did not ask any questions in a January Board of Prison Commissioners meeting. The Board of Prison Commissioners consists of Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford (D), and Secretary of State Barbara Cegasvke (R), and is tasked with review of Nevada’s prison regulations and policies. While Sisolak failed to inquire about the critical vacancies, in prior meetings mandating vaccination for employment had been his major focus.
In previous commission meetings, Sisolak and Ford have criticized the department’s low vaccination rates. In July, months into statewide vaccination efforts, prison officials reported about 42% of corrections staff were vaccinated, which Sisolak called “atrocious and not acceptable.”
Kim Smith, the acting chief of human resources at NDOC, informed the board there is a nearly 84% vaccination rate among staff as of Monday. The department is still resolving issues around vaccination exemption requests. The department received 361 requests: 38 medical, 283 religious and 37 medical-religious.Three were submitted without specifying the type of exemption sought.
“To date, we have approved 57 vaccination exemption requests,” Smith said. “We denied 190 vaccination exemption requests … We also have 86 requests that were appealed.”
When asked about the staffing vacancies following the January meeting, a representative for the Governor’s office said:
“The governor’s team continues to meet and work with Director Daniels and his team on measures to help alleviate ongoing issues,” the statement said. “Staffing at NDOC has been a challenge even prior to the pandemic, and the State is always working on ways to recruit and retain employees. The Governor is concerned about the vacancy rates at NDOC and appreciates the work that NDOC employees are doing to provide appropriate care for inmates.”
By July, the staffing vacancies at NDOC had soared to 32 percent, causing Director Daniels to suggest using a new system that includes drones and surveillance wristbands to require less man-power at a legislative judiciary committee meeting.
Unprecedented overtime hours are common practice for correction officers in Nevada prisons. In 2018, during Republican Governor Brian Sandoval’s term, a financial state of emergency was declared because NDOC’s overtime had busted the state budget by 15 million dollars. Sandoval accused the system of being “gamed” as evidenced by one employee who made $97,000 in overtime pay. Sandoval had proposed and the legislature approved a five percent pay increase for correction officers in the prior year, resulting in vacancy rates stabilizing in the single digits.
In the first three months of this year, NDOC spent $8 million, or about 21 percent, of all the compensation pay given to employees on overtime. NDOC has the highest rate of overtime in total compensation of any agency, according to a report presented to the Board of Examiners, which includes Governor Sisoalk.
Prison Pandemic Policies
In early 2020, inmates were not allowed to have medical masks during the Coronavirus pandemic. The NDOC, under Daniels’ leadership, was worried that if inmates wore masks, they would be indistinguishable from prison guards and this could lead to an escape. Their policies changed to require masks later in the pandemic.
In photos posted by the department, you can see that staff led by Daniels are wearing masks at High Desert State Prison, but no inmates had masks, nor were they available to them.
Director C. Daniels leads a tour of High Desert State Prison for members of the Nevada Sentencing Commission, who witnessed medical screening and precautionary measures and towhall meetings where offenders received updates about COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/OlIna9fNYJ
— Nevada Corrections (@NevadaDOC) April 28, 2020
By November 2020, 90 percent of inmates at Warm Springs Correctional Center had tested positive for the virus. In the days prior to the outbreak, Return Strong, a civil rights activist group called for action including geriatric parole, and requests went unanswered, Nevada Current Reports:
Even as Return Strong warned of an outbreak at Warm Springs Correctional Center days before a drastic spike in Covid cases, calls for state action went unanswered.
Jodi Hocking, the group’s founder said of the report:
“Nobody wants to listen to us because they think incarcerated people are liars and we’re a bunch of dramatic prison wives. The reality is, what we’re saying is factual and everything we’ve said has lined up with every single report by what they consider a neutral third party. So when is somebody going to do something about it?
We are now two years into this and every recommendation says decarceration is the best practice, yet we can’t even have that discussion in Nevada, the Governor won’t talk about it. NDOC says it’s not their job to decide that.
I don’t at this point trust that we can rely on the executive branch or the Board of Prison Commissioners to act on this,”
In January 2021, it was reported that 40 inmates in Nevada prisons had died of the Coronavirus. Crime and Justice Institute found that in Nevada “the prison system had the third-highest rate of deaths among incarcerated populations across 45 states.”
At tomorrow’s IFC, NVDOC will ask for more than $1.2M to treat coronavirus
The NVDOC won’t
-provide hand sanitizer
— Laura (@LauraKMM) April 29, 2020
On March 23, 2020, Governor Sisolak issued an order preventing doctors from issuing new prescriptions of Hydroxychloroquine for outpatient care and limiting quantities for patients already using the drug for other conditions. The order was so restrictive that outpatient doctors could not even prescribe it to new lupus or malaria patients, common uses of the drug. The edict caused a national mockery and was seen as a partisan jab at then-President Donald Trump who had promoted the utility of the drug.
In Nevada, we couldn’t understand where the basis of this order came from. It was said to be based on “reports of stockpiling” and those reports were never cited.
During this crisis, we should listen to the science & the medical professionals. The opposite approach: the Governor of Nevada, practicing medicine w/o a license—trying to score political points against Trump—& prohibiting NV doctors from prescribing medicines to treat COVID19. https://t.co/D4FK51BccP
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 25, 2020
But, interference with doctors’ ability to practice and treat their patients, solely based on the uncited fear of “stockpiling,” didn’t stop NDOC from immediately stockpiling the drug. In an emailed statement the department wrote:
“On March 26th, NDOC Pharmacy Director Linda Fox placed an order of Placquenil (a.k.a. hydroxychloroquine sulfate) to ensure a sufficient supply of the drug for several NDOC inmates who had previously been prescribed the medication for treatment of non-COVID-19 conditions and potential future use for those who demonstrate a medical need,”
Of course, this means that they are stockpiling for people who already use the drug, and for “potential future use” of people who do not already take the drug and would not have to be admitted to a hospital in order to receive it: two things that were specifically prevented for the general public through Sisolak’s order.
Other issues with NDOC have been uncovered this year by an audit obtained by 8 News Now. The department doesn’t review use-of-force grievances, or hold required review panels about two-thirds of the time.
The audit reports inmate and staff grievances, alleging excessive force, often go unheard. The audit found the department’s inspector general did not review most grievances filed. For those the office did review, “the review was not completed timely,” the report said.
Overall, the audit found the department’s use-of-force data “is not accurate, complete or reliable.”
Auditors picked 20 grievances from a total of 83 to test for review and timeliness. The department requires grievance responses made within 90 days. The audit found that two-thirds of the grievances were never reviewed. For the reviewed ones, it took an average of 274 days, or about 9 months, to process.
The department did not hold a review panel for about two-thirds of 25 use-of-force incidents the audit reviewed. In addition, two-thirds of review panels were untimely, meaning they were completed past the 45-day department-mandated timeframe. In one case, a review took more than a year to complete.
The audit found there was often no tracking of employee training and no department-wide training, guidance, or regulation on how and when to use a restraint chair. Some prisons had no guidance at all and some had incongruent guidance on use of restraints. Expensive $200,000 tax-payer-funded body-camera equipment was also found to be unused.
The issues in Nevada’s state-run prisons have been continually raised during Sisolak and his appointee NDOC Director Daniels’ tenures. The red flags have been in public view the whole time. Due to Sisolak’s incompetence in managing his administration, inaction as a member of the Board of Prisons Commissioner, and negligence in hearing the voices of the families of inmates and the employees raising hostile workplace and understaffing concerns, many people have suffered immensely.
Now, Nevadans have a bomb-making murderer escaped into the community. And, Nevada’s civilians nor police agencies heard anything about it for days, because nobody even knew the inmate was gone from the prison.
Sisolak and NDOC are witch-hunting for some low-level employees to blame for the state’s department-wide dysfunction, instead of themselves, of course. Meanwhile, Nevadans come to terms with the fact we have a blighted man-hunt because it started four days too late. Sisolak’s failed leadership is a threat to Nevada’s public safety, correction officers, prison staff, inmates, loved ones, and… the crime victims who are living their worst nightmares in real-time.