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Letter shows ex-prisons director demanded $1M after resigning

Updated November 4, 2022 - 5:03 pm

After demanding more than $1 million from the state of Nevada, former Department of Corrections Director Charles Daniels released a statement Friday announcing that he had filed a “whistleblower and hostile work environment complaint” against an official from the governor’s office.

Gov. Steve Sisolak asked Daniels to resign in September in the aftermath of convicted killer Porfirio Duarte-Herrera’s escape from prison. Officials have said that Duarte-Herrera was first unaccounted for on Sept. 23 but that the Department of Corrections did not notify law enforcement of the escape until four days later.

On Oct. 28, Daniels’ lawyer, Craig Marquiz, sent a letter to the attorney general’s office stating that Daniels would hold a news conference “if an amicable resolution and severance cannot be achieved,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Daniels demanded that the state agree to pay him $1,050,000 by Nov. 1, according to the letter, which said the amount would cover Daniels’ salary for the seven years before he had planned to retire.

He already received a $5,000 “severance gesture” from the state, according to the letter. Marquiz wrote that the severance “is a far cry from what is required to fully and fairly compensate Charles for his loss and role as Governor Sisolak’s sacrificial lamb/scapegoat.”

The letter also stated that if the additional severance wasn’t paid, Daniels intended to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint and potentially pursue a federal lawsuit.

Statement from governor’s office

Daniels spoke to news media for more than 10 minutes on Friday outside the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse. He read from a printed statement and refused to answer questions afterward.

The former director did not address a statement released a short time earlier by Sisolak’s chief of staff, Yvanna Cancela, in which she said Daniels “is motivated by the upcoming and nationally watched election.”

“The Governor’s Office and the State will not have this matter politicized,” Cancela wrote. “Furthermore, the Office will not be intimidated or extorted for opportunistic financial gain.”

Marquiz said Daniels would be available for interviews following the statement, but the lawyer could not be reached later Friday.

Daniels told reporters that he was forced to resign and claimed he was pressured by Sisolak’s deputy general counsel, Erica Roth, to change the timeline of the events surrounding the prisoner’s escape.

He said he filed a “whistleblower and hostile work environment complaint” against Roth, which Daniels said he sent to officials within the governor’s office before he was told on Sept. 30 to resign or be fired.

Roth declined to comment on Friday through the governor’s spokeswoman. Cancela wrote in her statement that the governor’s office would “have no additional comment on this matter.”

Timeline allegedly disputed

Duarte-Herrera, one of the convicted killers in the 2017 Luxor bomb explosion, escaped from the Southern Desert Correctional Center on Sept. 23 and was arrested in Las Vegas on Sept. 28 while waiting to board a bus to Tijuana, law enforcement officials have said. When announcing Daniels’ resignation, Sisolak called the escape a “serious and unacceptable breach of protocol.”

Daniels said Friday that he was not aware of Duarte-Herrera’s escape until about 8:15 a.m. on Sept. 27 and that he told the governor’s office within 10 minutes. Daniels said a prisoner had approached a staff member to report that Duarte-Herrera had placed a “crude dummy” in his bed, although it was unclear when exactly the prisoner told the staffer.

The department has previously said it enacted escape protocols at 8 a.m. on Sept. 27.

Daniels said he was told at about 9:15 a.m. that the prisoner had reported that Duarte-Herrera escaped sometime between the night of Sept. 23 and the morning of Sept. 24.

He said prison staff “inexplicably failed to do their job,” but he did not provide further details beyond listing the normal duties of those overseeing housing units.

Daniels said he had a phone call with Roth on Sept. 29, during which she told him to “change the timeline and to make it consistent with the media’s facts.” Daniels did not specify what details of the timeline the two discussed.

“I again told Roth I would not change anything that was not factual nor add anything that was not true,” Daniels said. “I then told her I don’t consider statements made by the media as fact.”

In the statement released Friday morning, Cancela said that under Daniels’ leadership, the governor’s office received “conflicting and sometimes incorrect information” regarding Duarte-Herrera’s escape and was “frustrated by the lack of clear communication.” She said the director’s termination was “directly and solely related” to performance issues that “reached the breaking point” when Duarte-Herrera escaped.

Cancela said the governor’s office had received a complaint from Daniels alleging hostility from a member of her staff and forwarded it “to the appropriate agency as required by law.”

“I can confidently say our team member acted with professionalism and managed a chaotic situation with the utmost composure and competence,” the statement said.

Corrections officials declined multiple requests for comment from the Review-Journal in the aftermath of the escape and refused to come to a joint law enforcement news conference about the escape.

Prior lawsuit

Prison staff sent a letter to Sisolak’s office the week before Duarte-Herrera escaped, accusing Daniels of “erratic, hostile, and abusive” behavior in the wake of two suicides within seven hours in the same unit at High Desert State Prison.

William Gittere, the Department of Corrections’ deputy director of operations, has served as the acting director since Daniels’ resignation.

Daniels’ recent complaint isn’t the first time he has fought with a prison system. In 2017, Daniels worked for four months in a senior role with the New York City Department of Corrections before he was forced to resign, he alleged in a federal lawsuit filed in December of that year.

The lawsuit, filed by Daniels and two other high-ranking New York City prison officials, alleged racial discrimination and manipulation of statistics on prison violence due to pressure from City Hall. The three plaintiffs settled the lawsuit for $275,000 in 2019, court records show.

After the lawsuit reached a settlement, Daniels’ lawyer wrote a letter to the court stating that Daniels wanted to back out of the agreement and that the lawyer had agreed to contact the city attorney to “ask if he could get more money,” court records show. The court denied Daniels’ request to reopen the suit.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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