Appeals court revives lawsuit filed by Nevada inmates over pagan worship area

Carson City — A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit filed by inmates at the Lovelock Correctional Center over the destruction of a pagan worship area during a construction project in 2009.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals on Monday denied a petition to reconsider an order issued in March that sent the case back to the federal court in Nevada for further proceedings.

Brian DeBarr, an inmate at Lovelock, complained in his suit that the Nevada Department of Corrections and prison administrators violated his civil rights when a pagan worship area on the prison grounds was flattened for construction projects. His suit was later consolidated with a similar legal action filed by other inmates.

DeBarr, who filed the suit without legal representation, claimed the area initially identified by prison officials as part of the construction area did not include the sacred portions of the pagan religious grounds.

After the entire area was flattened, he and other pagan inmates filed multiple grievances with prison administrators, raising one issue per grievance as required by regulations, according to court documents.

DeBarr was disciplined for abusing the inmate grievance process and sentenced to 15 days in segregation. He claimed prison officials retaliated against him by transferring him to High Desert State Prison north of Las Vegas for 18 months.

U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks earlier granted summary judgment in favor of prison administrators, who argued the inmates abused the prison grievance process to harass prison staff.

But the appellate court said the evidence shows that the inmates “engaged in the prison’s informal resolution procedure before filing their grievances” and that their grievances “were not frivolous, vexatious or duplicative.”

It also said prison officials “failed to follow their own mandated procedures” in punishing the inmates.