LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A lawsuit alleges a group of female inmates received second-degree burns when they were ordered to continue working despite dangerous conditions at the site of a wildland fire near Laughlin on April 20, 2021.
The ACLU of Nevada filed the lawsuit on March 22 in Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County against the state of Nevada, the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC), the Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF) and James Dzurenda, the current prisons director. Others named as defendants are Kacey KC, the current State Forester and Firewarden, NDF employees Sean McGuire, Scott Benner and Todd Frey. Others may be added as the lawsuit proceeds.
The ACLU filed the claim on behalf of inmates Rebecca Leavitt, Little Blue Sky Briggs, Jodie Eltzroth, Britney Jackson, Moniqa Martinez, Sharon Newman and Stacy Tai.
The inmates were dispatched to clear out “red-hot embers” that burned through their boots, the lawsuit alleges.
“The firefighters, including Plaintiffs, immediately reported the burning to their supervisors,” but they were ignored and sent back to work, the lawsuit alleges.
“As the day dragged on, the Plaintiffs’ pain grew steadily worse, according to the lawsuit. “Some felt the skin on the bottom of their feet loosen and blisters forming. The sole of Plaintiff Tai’s boot literally melted off, when Tai showed McGuire her boot, he only wrapped the boot in duct tape and sent her back to work.”
The lawsuit describes their treatment as “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The Department of Corrections declined to comment on a matter currently in litigation.
The women were sent to the site from the Jean Conservation Camp.
“When they were returned to Jean Conservation Camp, the workers found their socks had melded to their feet, and they could not exit the bus without assistance,” according to an ACLU news release announcing the lawsuit. “That night, they could only shower and reach the restroom by crawling on their hands and knees. None of the plaintiffs received medical treatment for their second-degree burns until the next day.”
Recovery from the injuries involved painful treatments without any medication to numb or reduce the pain — because they were prisoners, according to the lawsuit.
Some of the women took two weeks to recover from their injuries.
The lawsuit seeks action from NDOC and NDF to develop and implement policies, procedures and practices to improve training and equipment for inmates who are on firefighting crews. The lawsuit also presses for discipline for employee actions in the field, as well as whistleblower protections for inmates who are put in dangerous situations.
Only one of the women had experience in working to “mop up” a wildland fire before they were sent into the field.
The lawsuit cites negligence on NDF employees’ part and seeks a jury trial to determine “non-economic damages” in excess of $700,000 as well as punitive damages, along with attorney’s fees.