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Lawsuit claims incarcerated juvenile seriously injured

A lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of a juvenile inmate alleges he suffered permanent injuries from the combination of a physical attack and use of force by correctional officers while housed at the Nevada Youth Training Center in Elko.

The complaint was filed in Clark County District Court by Al Lasso, a personal injury attorney in Las Vegas. The plaintiff, Daniel Vargas, who was transferred to the Northern Nevada facility in October, lost eyesight after he alleges officers attacked him and hogtied him in November, securing his limbs together behind his back.

“We don’t want any other child to go through what Daniel and other children up there have had to go through,” Lasso said, who added his client was not doing interviews.

Last month, Family Court Judge William Voy ordered 12 Clark County youth to be returned to his jurisdiction after reports that youth were being “hobbled” at the Elko facility. The lawsuit claims Vargas was one of those inmates.

Hobbling is defined as using a 2-foot-chain to connect the wrist restraint to the ankle restraint, preventing the person from standing upright, according to state officials.

The complaint alleges that at the end of November, Vargas woke up in accordance with facility policy and went to the bathroom to wash his hands and brush his teeth.

But because Vargas desperately needed to use the restroom and proceeded to the stall before brushing his teeth, officers attacked him and “proceeded to hogtie” him, the lawsuit alleges.

“(Vargas) was bleeding profusely at this point and these defendants continued to punch him, elbow him, and finger jab him in the ribs,” the lawsuit reads. “(Vargas) was without any means for protecting himself or shielding himself from the blows as he was completely restrained.”

Vargas, who was restrained, was left in the same location unattended by staff for about 2.5 hours, according to the lawsuit. At that point, a nurse examined him, but neither the nurse nor other staff treated the juvenile.

At some point in the attack, Vargas tried to push officers back, according to the lawsuit. Three hours after the attack, he was transported to the Elko County Juvenile Detention Center and charged with battery.

“At this time, (Vargas’) eyeballs were bloody and his face was black and blue from visible contusions,” the lawsuit reads. He still didn’t receive medical care.

Vargas was transferred to Red Rock Academy in Clark County in December. It wasn’t until then that he was sent to an emergency department to be treated for his injuries from the November attack, according to the lawsuit.

Vargas has 10 percent vision in his left eye, a condition his physician has determined is permanent and irreversible, according to the complaint.

The complaint names a long list of defendants, including Romaine Gilliland, director of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, Mike Willden, former director of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, and Amber Howell, administrator for the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services, which oversees the state’s juvenile correctional facilities, among other state officials, officers and a nurse.

The Washoe County Department of Social Services and the state’s Division of Child and Family Services conducted investigations into reports of abuse and neglect at the Elko facility, but determined that each use of mechanical restraint was necessary.

The restraint method hasn’t been used at the Elko facility since December.

The lawsuit, which alleges violation of civil rights, failure to train and supervise staff and negligence of defendants, seeks general damages in excess of $10,000, special damages in excess of $10,000 and compensation for loss of earnings and earnings capacity in excess of $10,000.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @yeseniaamaro.

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