An inmate in a troubled prison outside of Las Vegas commits suicide

An inmate at High Desert State Prison was serving a life sentence with probation

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – An inmate at High Desert State Prison has died by suicide, investigators have learned from 8 News Now.

James Chavez, 47, died Jan. 18, the Clark County Coroner’s Office said. Chavez’s cause of death was listed as “hanging” in the prison’s infirmary, records show.

Chavez was serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole for three counts of sexually assaulting a victim under the age of 16. He was convicted in Washoe County. He began serving his sentence in 2007, according to records from the Nevada Department of Justice.

Investigators from 8 News Now contacted the Nevada Department of Justice about Chavez’s death and asked what action it is taking to prevent inmate suicides. In an email, a spokesman said there were no warning signs of Chavez’s death and that he had not requested psychiatric services.

“All inmates have access to kites, emergency kites, unit officers, etc. if they need urgent psychiatric care,” wrote assistant director William Quenga. “For inmates who have an identified mental health need or history, they are regularly evaluated by the mental health, psychiatric or psychiatric nursing department.”

In September 2022, two inmates at High Desert State Prison committed suicide within 24 hours. 8 News Now investigators learned that four days later the warden notified staff of changes at the prison and the Nevada Department of Justice medical director informed staff that he would be quitting five days later.

David Thompson, 38, died by hanging on September 7. He was in prison for robbery with a deadly weapon, according to Nevada Department of Justice records. His sentence would have been served in 2028.

Deryl Dent, 32, died by hanging on September 8. He was serving a sentence on charges of attempted battery and battery causing significant bodily harm, according to NDOC records. His sentence would have been served in 2023.

In a memo to staff obtained by 8 News Now investigators, Director Calvin Johnson listed restrictive housing changes and security updates. This included daily group tours conducted daily by prison wardens and staff, including medical tours by the deputy warden, health and welfare training for all staff, and supervisory oversight to ensure 30-minute irregular checks in restrictive accommodation.

According to an internal memo, “The officer is required to observe each offender every 30 minutes to assess health and well-being and to log the 30-minute rounds.” The warden added three daily health and Add welfare counts.

“If an offender in restrictive confinement does not leave their cell for three consecutive days, the offender will be removed for a mental health evaluation on the third day and the cell will be searched,” the memo said.

For anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 988, text, or chat with a crisis counselor. To learn more about the Office of Suicide Prevention, visit this link.