HOUSTON (CN) – Four prison employees still face claims that they let an inmate strangle his cellmate and kick him to death with boots, a federal judge ruled.
Michael Dewayne Walker was a prisoner at a Texas state prison in Midway, serving a 21-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault of a child. Officials at the Ferguson Unit assigned the 20-year-old Walker to bunk with Wilbert “Peanut” Hamilton, who was serving time for homicide, arson and assault.
On July 13, 2006, just six months into Walker’s sentence, Hamilton strangled Walker and kicked him with a pair of black brogans issued to him for use in the prison work area. After Hamilton pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, the courts tacked another seven years to his prison sentence.
Walker was not the first cellmate that Hamilton had assaulted. Steven Ware nearly died when Hamilton went after him in a similar attack five years earlier.
Walker’s parents, Mary Walker and Michael Spencer, filed a wrongful-death complaint in the Southern District of Texas. The original complaint lists eight claims for relief, which include violations of Walker’s Fourth, Eighth and 14th Amendment rights.
“It is well known to all defendants – and frankly the general public – that sex offenders are routinely targeted by the general population inmates and singled out for harassment, intimidation, abuse, assault, and/or injury,” the complaint states. Walker’s parents also say Hamilton should not have had his boots in the cell.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt noted this week that the four remaining defendants – Ferguson Unit Warden Michael Upshaw, prison guard Matthew Bazan III, prison guard Jason Pfleiderer, and prison guard Leonard Laskowski – were each named for the first time in an amended complaint.
On Wednesday, Hoyt dismissed their second motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The officials had claimed that “the law was not clearly established that sex offenders such as Walker had to be segregated from the prison population, nor that offenders were prohibited from having boots in the housing area,” according to the eight-page order.
There are “genuine issues of material fact remain disputed regarding whether the defendants violated Walker’s Eighth Amendment rights,” Hoyt said, noting that Walker’s parents have claimed that “Hamilton’s propensity for violence was well known within the prison, and that his attack on Walker was audible and occurred over several hours.”
Walker’s parents “also claim that Warden Upshaw failed to properly train his staff, as evidenced by the fact that they put him into Hamilton’s cell, despite the fact that Hamilton was outspokenly threatening to any potential cell mate.”
“In light of Hamilton’s well-documented history of violence, mental instability and routine need for solitary confinement, the conflicting accounts of the length and volume of the fatal beating, the defendants’ qualified immunity defense fails,” Hoyt wrote.