According to a police report and a video-recorded statement by a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer, a flash-bang grenade was used on an inmate at the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC) despite the fact that he was compliant with officer commands.
When a group of Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) guards went to Sergio Ramirez’s cell on the morning of November 21st, 2008, they told him that if he did not comply, “force and/or chemical agents” could be used against him. But after Mr. Ramirez complied, force was used anyway. The report stated that on other occasions, the prisoner had said he would “lay hands” on guards, among other things; this knowledge of a prior threat was given as justification for the use of the flash-bang grenade.
From the video of the event (available here), it appears that the guards gave Mr. Ramirez a series of orders bringing him to the floor on his stomach, with arms out by his side. The guards paused after each order, apparently to wait for compliance, but then opened the door, and seemingly without looking, threw a “flash-bang” grenade directly at Mr. Ramirez. As is visible on the video when the flash-bang is thrown, Mr. Ramirez was lying down with hands at his side – just as instructed.
Mr. Ramirez, whose side was severely burned, was then taken from his cell, his face covered, and placed in an interrogation chair, with straps directly over his burns. Eventually two nurses did treat the burn topically, but they never asked Mr. Ramirez a single medical question to determine the extent of his injuries.
Even worse, according to a lawsuit filed by attorneys Brent Bryson and Gabe Grasso, Mr. Ramirez was then left naked in an isolation cell for four days. No doctor visited him in that time, and he was not allowed to make any calls.
If Mr. Ramirez’s allegations are true – and the video documenting the cell removal supports the claims as to the use of the flash-bang grenade – they raise serious questions about CCDC’s policies and practices. The ACLU understands that guards face real and serious dangers every day. Some people who are housed at detention centers, jails, and prisons have been charged with and/or convicted of violent crimes, and inmates do make threats – against each other and against guards.
Mr. Ramirez appears to be a gang member and is now serving a life sentence for murder. He may very well have made statements about prison fights or taking on guards. That does not mean, however, that prison officials can use extreme force, like flash-bang grenades, against people like Mr. Ramirez in each and every circumstance. The use of force should be limited to circumstances where a prisoner poses an actual threat under the actual circumstances.
The Constitution’s protections apply to everyone – even prisoners. If we don’t afford those protections to everybody, soon they will belong to nobody. Given that inmates are unpopular and have such limited power to advocate for themselves, it is all the more important to make sure that our prisons, jails, and detention facilities treat them humanely and do not run afoul of the Constitution or international standards of basic human rights.
"We measure society by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.” Pearl S. Buck