Inmate who died part of Cold War-era shock testing
An Airway Heights Corrections Center inmate found dead earlier this month participated in Cold War-era testicular shock experiments that led to a federal lawsuit.
Labeled a “psychopathic delinquent” as a teenager, George D. Taté spent most of his adult life in the Washington prison system. He was convicted on a “carnal knowledge” charge for molesting a 7-year-old girl in 1967, then for first-degree rape in 1980.
Airway Heights guards found Taté unresponsive in his cell March 18 about 1 a.m. Medics declared him dead about 25 minutes later. He was 63.
Prison officials don’t believe his death was a suicide, said Risa Klemme, Airway Heights prison spokeswoman.
The Spokane County medical examiner’s office said an autopsy said the cause of death is unknown; that office is awaiting toxicology reports.
Klemme couldn’t comment on Taté’s medical condition, but his inmate photo shows him wearing sunglasses, which the prison allows only for medical reasons.
The prison experiments conducted by University of Washington professor and fertility expert C. Alvin Paulsen from 1963 to 1970 were detailed in a series of articles by The Spokesman-Review in 1994. The reporting led to federal lawsuits by the Seattle law firm Byrnes and Keller and a Philadelphia firm, Berger and Montague.
Plaintiffs complained of health problems from the tests, which were funded by the U.S Atomic Energy Commission to study the effect of radiation on fertility for men in war, outer space and nuclear power plants. They were halted in 1970 by the first woman to run the research division of the state prison system, Audrey Holliday, who called them Nazi-like, according to previous published reports.
A Clinton administration review panel condemned the experiments in 1995.
About two dozen participants were paid $30,000 to $40,000 each as part of a $2.4 million settlement in 2000, but Taté never got a dime, federal court records show.
A federal judge excluded him from the payouts after determining that despite participating in the experiment, Tate’s testicles were never X-rayed, unlike 64 other inmates, court documents show.
He’d been paid $15 to participate, according to a consent form Taté signed in 1969 that’s included in court filings.
Taté was transferred to Airway Heights from Stafford Creek Corrections Center in June 2001. He was released from prison on the carnal knowledge charge but reoffended weeks later and was sent back to prison on a first-degree rape charge in 1980, according to the Washington Department of Corrections.
He was scheduled to be released next March.
Taté entered Western State Hospital in 1962 under an order from the Grays Harbor County Superior Court, then was recommitted to the mental hospital in 1966 by the Cowlitz County Superior Court, court records show.
Records show Taté was married to a woman named Linda Sue Martin Taté, who worked on his lawsuit and wrote court filings to prove he’d undergone testicular radiation.
She wrote that her husband’s “pubic hairs fell out and he experienced severe pain in his scrotum for several months after one of their experiments on him,” according to the document.
Linda Taté couldn’t be reached for comment, and it’s unclear whether the two stayed married.
In a November 2000 court filing, she said she’d been working to prove her husband’s innocence for seven years.
“Vital information which would show Mr. Taté in a more favorable light and even clear him of infractions is suspiciously not in his public record,” the document reads.
Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.