Corrections officers Neal Bengil and Jose Miranda were new to the job when a prison dormitory turned into a scene of chaos the night of March 9.
The officers, along with three co-workers, were unarmed when they went to stop a fight that had broken out among 24 inmates at Southern Desert Correctional Center in Indian Springs.
It was the team’s bravery during the massive fight that earned the five officers awards from Corrections USA, a nonprofit group that represents government corrections officers, Chairman James Baiardi said before Wednesday night’s awards ceremony at Harrah’s.
“It takes great courage to do something like that. Even out in the street most officers would wait for some kind of backup if there was a big rumble,” Baiardi said. “There were minor injuries in the incident because of their quick actions.”
Corrections USA has held the annual Las Vegas ceremony honoring corrections officers from across the United States for about 10 years, Baiardi said.
This year, Nevada officers Bengil, Miranda, Michael Baker, Jose Reyes Jr. and Michael Dante were given the Chairman’s Award for being the first responders to the March prison fight.
“Honestly, you don’t know how you’re going to react until it happens, and I’m just so happy I didn’t just freeze up,” said Miranda, 29, who had been a corrections officer for about six months when the fight broke out. “I kept my eyes open. I got on the radio, and I started to explain details: ‘Hey, we need backup now.’ ”
The Nevada Department of Corrections is still investigating the fight, so the officers couldn’t discuss it in much detail, said Baker, 36, who was the senior officer the night of the fight. Baker and others on his team were attacked by the inmates, he said, but when backup arrived officers got the fight under control.
“When things changed, and we became attacked, I would say while I’ve been in many altercations with inmates, this is the first time that I actually looked around and was like, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to make it out of this,’ ” Baker said. “It was that serious at the time.”
Bengil, 31, said he was only about four months into his job when the fight happened. He said he was happy to be recognized with the award.
“The way I see it, I was just doing my job,” he said. “I didn’t expect anything like this. It’s pretty rewarding.”
Baiardi said the ceremony is meant to draw the public’s attention to the good corrections officers do in prisons and in their communities. Others awarded Wednesday night included an off-duty officer who helped save a boy from drowning and an officer who was killed in the line of duty, he said.
Baker said he was glad that he and the other officers received recognition for their work.
“We don’t always get the recognition that a lot of other law enforcement agencies get, but I do believe we make a big difference,” he said.
The fight in March could have been even more dangerous if it weren’t for the other four award recipients working with him that night, Baker said.
“I don’t think we would have made it through that night if it hadn’t have been for the guys that were around me,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for better guys around me.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the name of one of the officers.