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Former Nevada Officer Charged with Using Excessive and Unnecessary Force on Restrained Inmates During Controversial 2021 Prison Riot

A former Nevada correction officer has been charged with using “excessive” and “unnecessary” force multiple times during a 2021 prison riot. He joins three other officers who were also identified for abusing their authority as prison personnel against inmates.

Southern Desert Correctional Center (8NewsNow Screengrab)

On Tuesday, Aug. 30, the Nevada Attorney General’s Office filed charges against Brayan Lopez for assaulting an inmate who was being restrained during the riot in the Southern Desert Correctional Center, a medium-security prison, on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, according to 8NewsNow.com.

Lopez is accused of “using force unnecessarily” with “excessive and unauthorized force” while performing his duties as a law enforcement professional.

Court records also list three other officers, Paul Bowerman, Quentin Murphy, and Timothy Smith, charged with violating the civil rights of inmates that day.

The official charges were revealed in a warrant for Lopez’s arrest at the end of August. They consisted of four counts of battery, four counts of inhumanity to a prisoner, and four counts of oppression under the color of office with the use of physical force and were all connected to four different incidents during the upheaval, where inmates took over the prison.

The first incident the prosecutors highlighted involved Lopez and another officer. They were tasked with escorting an inmate down the hallway when video captures Lopez “[slamming] the inmate toward a wall.”

In the second incident, Lopez takes his knee and pushes in an inmate’s “midsection.”

Documents also show another incident where Lopez again uses his knee as a weapon to assault an inmate. In the last of the four criminal incidents, he is facing charges for alleging the officer “forced [an] inmate’s head to make contact with a cell door.”

For each offense, the inmate was restrained and posed no threat to Lopez.

According to a warrant for Murphy, one inmate Lopez is accused of assaulting refused to make a statement against the officer.

Originally, the department downplayed the severity of the riot, calling it a “group disturbance.”

A press release, issued on Dec. 8, 2021, read in part, “The Nevada Department of Corrections reported that a group of nearly 25 inmates in one unit at Southern Desert Correctional Center were involved in a group disturbance around 1 p.m. Wednesday.”

“The inmates refused to enter their cells or follow orders,” it continued. “The inmates also started two small fires, which were extinguished before causing significant damage. About 15 inmates were transported to higher security prisons.”

“Minor injuries were reported and treated onsite,” it ended.

It was later discovered at least 40 inmates participated in the riot, and the department had considered moving more than a hundred to other institutions after the rebellion was quelled.

Also, there were some pretty serious injuries onsite, including one officer who was hit in the head with a rock and one inmate who needed to be transported to the hospital as a result of the clash between inmates and prison officials.

An investigation has revealed it was a massive uprising led by a prominent leader in the white supremacist Aryan Warrior gang. Inmates were said to have been armed with shanks (prison-made knives) and were organized in a manner to rival the correction officers assigned to keep the peace.

The inmates unlocked their own cell doors from the inside, blotted out surveillance cameras, flooded the common area with water, and assumed power in the unit.

In an interview with 8 News Now, the president of Fraternal Order of Police Nevada C.O. Lodge 21, Paul Lunkwitz, said many of the officers on duty that day were unsure if they would make it home and made note they were not prepared with resources for such an event as the riot.

The union that Lunkwitz works for represents correctional officers, and he is questioning why so many officers are under investigation, considering the distress they faced that day.

The Nevada Department of Corrections is working with the NAGO to investigate “officer conduct and offender behavior.”

In the aftermath, on July 15, the facility’s warden, William “Hutch” Hutchings resigned from his position.

Deputy Director William Quenga said his leaving was voluntary and was for “personal reasons.”

Lopez entered a not guilty plea to each charge on Aug. 30. In January of 2022, a month after the incident, he resigned.

Murphy, 37, was arrested on Friday, Aug. 26, and charged the day before Lopez. He was only charged with one count each of battery, inhumanity to a prisoner, and oppression under color of office.

The two, as corrections officers, had been assigned to High Desert State Prison, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and answered the emergency call to help during the riot.

A warrant for his arrest said while Murphy was supposed to be taking Zackaria Luz, a 41-year-old inmate who is also a member of the Aryan Warriors gang, to his cell, he was captured twice pushing the prisoner into a wall.

Murphy was also presented and watched Lopez knee in the stomach but failed to report the abusive conduct.

The warrant said, “Officer Murphy pulled the inmate toward the wall again with such force that the inmate’s head made contact with the wall and his pants fall down past his knees.”

The other officers, Smith and Bowerman have not been charged, but also face one count of battery, inhumanity to a prisoner, and oppression under color of office for their role in violating the civil rights of inmates.

Murphy’s arrest warrant says the duo also watched the excessive force perpetrated on the inmates but did not report the incidents either.

His colleagues are still working for the facility and have been placed on administrative leave.

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