Prosecutors rested their case against two former Nevada Department of Corrections officers on Thursday without calling the inmate against whom they are accused of using unnecessary force.
After prosecutors finished, District Judge Elissa Cadish stopped short of advising jurors to acquit Paul Valdez and Jose Navarrete at the request of defense attorneys Ross Goodman and Kyle Cottner.
The judge decided that jurors could watch surveillance video of the officers’ October 2016 encounter at Southern Desert Correctional Center with inmate Ricky Norelus and determine whether he was not acting aggressively toward the guards.
“It’s not the strongest case I’ve ever seen,” the judge then said.
Defense attorneys called Dean Willett, then a prison sergeant, who wrote in a report at the time that the “spontaneous” use of force was justified.
Through cross-examination, Deputy Attorney General Daniel Westmeyer tried to show that the report had been based on what Navarrete and Valdez told Willett.
Valdez and Navarrete each face a felony charge of oppression under color of office and two gross misdemeanors — inhumanity to a prisoner and false report by a public officer — in connection with the confrontation.
Their lawyers said they followed prison protocol during what began as a routine pat-down.
Outside the prison mess hall after breakfast, the officers encountered Norelus, who was serving a two- to six-year sentence for battery with a deadly weapon, for which he was found guilty but mentally ill in 2013.
Norelus, with a history of write-ups at the prison, was pulled out of line and placed against a wall alongside other inmates.
A surveillance video clip showed Valdez wrapping his arm around Norelus and slamming him to the ground before Navarrete joined in to help restrain the inmate.
Prosecutors argued that the officers later fabricated a report to indicate that Norelus had pulled his hands off the wall and “turned in an aggressive manner” toward Valdez.
But Goodman and Cottner argued that a longer surveillance video, stretching 10 minutes before Norelus was thrown to the ground, showed the inmate disobeying orders, shouting obscenities, pulling his hands from a prison wall, and directing his elbow toward Valdez as the officers tried to calm him.
Navarrete had worked at the Indian Springs prison “with a blemish-free record” for eight years, according to Cottner, before the encounter with Norelus, who has since been released from prison.
The former officers face up to four years in prison for the felony charge and up to one year of imprisonment for each gross misdemeanor charge. The trial is expected to conclude Friday.