An inmate is suing Utah County and several jailers, claiming they used excessive force in 2017 when a deputy armed with a shotgun fired rubber pellets at him.
The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in federal court, alleges that Deputy Jason Hindes fired a weapon into Luis Carlos Prado’s jail cell one summer morning last year. Prado, who had been in the Utah County jail after being accused of assault, had been in the mental health unit, and his lawsuit alleges jailers were aware of his “serious mental health problems.”
On Jun 28, 2017, Utah County jail officers told Prado he needed to move to a different cell. An officer later wrote in an incident report that the inmate’s cell was “filthy,” contained moldy food and fermented fruit, and Prado had refused to take a shower.
A video played during a Thursday news conference showed Prado yelling at officers that he won’t “cuff up,” meaning he refused to put his hands through a small opening in the cell door to be handcuffed by jail officers and moved.
He punched his cell door, yelled at the officers that he’ll stab them in the eyes and find their children and harm them when released.
An officer then pulled down the small opening in the door, as another pointed a shotgun at it. Prado responds by putting his knee up to the opening and yelling, “What?! What?!”
Hindes pulled the trigger, the barrel of the shotgun inches from the inmate’s leg.
Prado barely flinched, and as the officer reloads, he yelled, “Want to do it again?”
“Get on the ground!” An officer yelled.
“Want to do it again?”
“Get on the ground!”
That shot also had little effect on the inmate, who was taken from his cell about 17 minutes into the confrontation after officers filled his room with pepper spray.
As he was being led from his cell, the pant leg of Prado’s orange striped jumpsuit is seen soaked with blood. Officers eventually cut his jumpsuit off of him and bandaged the wound.
The blast lodged rubber pellets into Prado’s leg, the lawsuit says, and left a gaping wound. He had to have surgery, according to his lawsuit, and it became “grossly infected” at some point.
“This was totally unnecessary,” said Robert Sykes, Prado’s attorney. “They didn’t need to use that sort of force.”
Former Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, who now works as an expert in use-of-force techniques, said Thursday that he felt the officer’s force was “unnecessarily punitive and unwarranted.” He said that type of rubber pellet ammunition is intended to be used for crowd control or firing at a much greater distance.
“As soon as he snuggles up to the door, that is completely inappropriate to use force,” he said at the news conference. “That is nothing but punitive. You see the reaction. It has no effect on his behavior whatsoever and yet they administer a second round. That tool is designed to move people in a direction, not to simply hurt them enough so they comply.”
Officers are generally taught to use the least amount of force necessary, and Burbank questioned why the Utah County jail employees first used a shotgun before filling Prado’s cell with pepper spray.
Using pepper spray is effective, the former chief said, as it was in Prado’s case. The shotgun blasts did not force Prado to obey — but after about four minutes of using pepper spray, he complied and agreed to be handcuffed and led into another cell.
Prado alleges in the lawsuit that the officers’ actions amounted to excessive force and violated his civil rights. He also alleges Utah County failed to properly train and supervise its officers. Along with Hindes, his supervisor Sgt. Shawn Troumbley is also named in the lawsuit, as well as Utah County.
Utah County Sgt. Spencer Cannon said in a Thursday statement that the incident was investigated by an outside agency and was reviewed internally.
“We have taken appropriate corrective action,” he wrote, “but we disagree with the statements made by Mr. Prado’s attorney."
An Orem police officer later reviewed the case, according to a report, and found the officers had “no criminal intent to harm Prado.” A jail lieutenant wrote in a use-of-force report, however, that she was “concerned” about using a shotgun. She told a sergeant that less-than-lethal guns should no longer be used on Prado.
Prado is currently in the Salt Lake County jail, after he was indicted in October in federal court for possessing a firearm as a restricted person. He also had a pending case where he was accused of possessing drugs and shooting a gun around a Springville neighborhood, but the case was dismissed so he could be prosecuted in federal court. Prado has a lengthy criminal history of mostly minor crimes, like shoplifting and interfering with arresting police officers.