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Inmate, CCA reach settlement in Idaho prison suit

Shown from the entrance, the Idaho Correctional Center is a privately run but state-owned prison south of Boise.  (File)
Shown from the entrance, the Idaho Correctional Center is a privately run but state-owned prison south of Boise. (File)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An inmate who sued a privately run Idaho prison over allegations of extreme violence and medical neglect has reached a settlement with the operator, Corrections Corporation of America.

Meanwhile, dozens of other inmates who also sued Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA in federal court are in settlement talks with the company, possibly ending their potential class-action case by the end of the week.

Marlin Riggs and the other inmates claimed the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise was so violent that it’s called “Gladiator School,” and that guards used inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool and then denied injured prisoners adequate medical care.

The settlement between Riggs and CCA was filed under seal in Boise’s U.S. District Court on Monday, and both sides reached a confidentiality agreement, so the terms weren’t available. Before the settlement, Riggs was seeking $55 million in damages.

Neither Riggs’ attorney, James Huegli, nor CCA spokesman Steve Owens immediately returned messages from The Associated Press seeking comment. A CCA spokeswoman at the Idaho Correctional Center referred all calls to Owens.

Riggs filed his lawsuit in 2009, saying that CCA’s prison guards failed to protect him from violence at the hands of other inmates even though he told the guards he was about to be attacked. He also contended that after the attack, CCA employees failed to adequately treat his injuries.

Several other inmates at the prison filed similar lawsuits in federal court around the same time, and a judge decided to consolidate them into one case. The American Civil Liberties Union took on the task of representing the inmates in the consolidated lawsuit, and they asked for class-action status on behalf of everyone at the lockup.

CCA has denied all of the allegations in the lawsuit, saying that the Idaho prison is run in accordance with state and federal standards.

In the joint lawsuit, Riggs originally asked for $155 million — the total net income that CCA reported for 2009 — and the rest of the inmates asked the court to order CCA to take steps to reduce the violence at the prison. Once Riggs’ case was split from the other prisoners’ claims, however, he changed his request for damages to $55 million. The rest of the inmates still aren’t asking for money from the company, just for changes in the way CCA runs the lockup.

Just before Riggs and CCA began settlement talks, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge tossed out Riggs’ claim of inadequate medical care, saying he had failed to take all the steps required by the prison’s formal complaint policy before taking the matter to the courts.

In his lawsuit, Riggs said he was “one of the scores of prisoners brutally assaulted as a result of defendants’ deliberate indifference to prisoner safety.”

Riggs, who is 48, was living in a general population housing unit called L-Pod in 2008 when he said gang members in the unit ordered him to begin paying “rent” or face being beaten. Riggs said they followed up the threat by stealing his headphones, food and other personal belongings. The next day, Riggs said, at least four inmates returned to his cell and told him he must leave or fight all of them.

Riggs told the prisoners he would leave, and he pressed the cellblock’s emergency button. A guard let him exit and sent him to talk to another guard.

But when Riggs said he’d been threatened and asked to leave the unit, the guard asked Riggs to name the inmates who had threatened him. Riggs said he didn’t know their names, but pointed out that the guard could look at security video to identify the prisoners. Riggs also offered to identify the inmates through photographs, but the guard refused to use either option. Instead, he ordered Riggs to return to his cell, according to the lawsuit. Riggs asked to speak to another guard, who also ordered Riggs back to the cellblock.

By that time, the other prisoners were at dinner and Riggs was able to call his family to explain the situation. Within minutes of the end of the call, Riggs was attacked and beaten by another inmate, according to the lawsuit.

He was knocked down, repeatedly kicked in the face and torso, his nose was broken, and the left side of his face was “smashed in.” Blood spatters from the attack even reached the ceiling, according to the lawsuit.

Riggs said that one of the guards who had ordered him to return to the cellblock eventually intervened, taking Riggs to the prison doctor. But while the prison doctor confirmed that his nose was broken, he refused to have the injuries X-rayed — a practice Riggs said was part of a common ICC effort to conceal the severity of attacked inmates’ injuries. He was then sent to a segregated cell, where he was kept without medical follow-up for 15 days.

The attack left him in enormous and constant pain, Riggs said in the lawsuit, and he ultimately needed an operation to allow him to breathe normally.

“During those 15 days, Riggs was constantly bleeding from the nose, bones in his face were loose, there was a noticeable dent in his face, he was bleeding from the ears and nose, and he had difficulty breathing. When he slept, Riggs would lie in a pool of blood,” the lawsuit said.


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