RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- In the past year, about three dozen Nevada prison inmates have died behind bars. Prison officials say that number does not represent an increase over past years and it is only a small percentage of the overall prison population.
But one former inmate says he and others were forced to suffer in prison because of the lack of quality medical care.
Larry Wilgus said it started back in July 2011, when he says he was forcibly detained by a prison staff member, who he claims used excessive force. "I was told to face the wall and place my hands behind my back and when I did I was forcibly detained," Wilgus said.
That staff member, Steve Suwe, had been in charge of offender management at the time, but Suwe is no longer with the Department of Corrections.
Wilgus says the incident left him in serious pain. "On a scale of one to ten, I'd say a ten."
He was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, and a winging scapula. But he claims the Department of Corrections refused to address the severity of his injury.
Wilgus said he filed more than 60 written requests in an effort to get treatment, including an emergency grievance where he cited extreme pain and limited movement. But he was only prescribed aspirin.
"It was very frustrating," Wilgus said. "I tried every position I could to see a doctor. It was just delay, delay, delay."
Official prison documents show the Department of Corrections denied one of Wilgus' medical grievances in August 2011, stating the grievance was filed after the ten-day limit. But NDOC's own policy states inmates have six months to file a grievance, if the issue involves personal injury or medical claims.
There is a ten-day limit, but that applies to cases involving classification, discipline, religious items and food, according to prison policy. Wilgus said his grievance was clearly about his medical issues.
So did the Department of Corrections ignore its own policy in this case? Prison spokesman Brian Connett declined to be interviewed for our story. In fact, Connett has declined to be interviewed on any topic, since taking over as prison spokesman.
When News 4 arrived in Carson City to try to find someone who could explain the situation to us, or at least tell us why no one at the Department of Corrections would talk about it, they said Connett was the only one authorized to speak.
Instead of answering questions, the Department of Corrections simply referred us to their written prison policy.
Larry Wilgus was released from prison after serving less than a year for receiving stolen property. He underwent surgery to repair his torn rotator cuff less than a month after he was released. Now, he works as a crane operator for a local lumber company.
Wilgus is seeking unspecified damages through the court for his pain and suffering. But he says part of his motivation for suing is to help others who are still behind bars and may be sick or injured. "Hopefully, it will bring some change for the medical care because it really doesn't matter what they're in there for. They have a right to that medical care. There should be no one suffering like that."
Prison Spokesman Brian Connett did issue a statement that he could not comment, because a lawsuit has been filed in the case. But when asked to discuss prison medical care in general, Connett declined that request.
Larry Wilgus' lawsuit has been filed in federal court, because he says his civil rights were violated. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for August.