PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The widow of a slain state prison inmate has filed lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages, alleging corrections officials ignored her husband’s request for protection.
Michael Hagen, 28, died at a Boise hospital in February 2012 after being found unconscious in his cell at the Snake River Correctional Institution. His cellmate was later charged with aggravated murder.
The state and federal lawsuits filed Thursday on behalf of Tiffany Hagen said the inmate declined to associate with a prison gang and was immediately targeted as both a possible informant and a man who would not fight back. The lawsuit states his requests for a transfer were repeatedly ignored.
“There were a succession of events that had Mr. Hagen subjected to inmate-on-inmate violence, and each time he contacted others within the prison system — looking for help, looking for transfers, telling them what was going on,” said Dennis Steinman, the attorney representing Tiffany Hagen. “And yet they put him back into a cell with someone who was known to be part of this gang.”
Tiffany Hagen was not available for an interview.
The state lawsuit filed in Salem accuses the Oregon Department of Corrections of negligence for failing to monitor prison gangs or train employees to recognize threats of violence. There have been three inmate-on-inmate deaths at the Snake River prison since 2011.
The federal lawsuit names former Corrections Director Max Williams, current Deputy Director Mitch Morrow and officials from the prison near Ontario.
Corrections Department spokeswoman Betty Bernt said the agency and prison officials do not comment on pending litigation.
Michael Hagen, who had a young daughter, was sent to prison for 17 years in 2010 after robbing a Portland check-cashing store and severely beating a clerk.
The lawsuits state he had never been to prison before and hoped to stay out of trouble. Rather than associate with a white prison gang, he befriended Native American inmates who avoided conflict.
According to the lawsuits, the gang started a rumor in early 2011 that Hagen was an informant. Hagen asked to be transferred because he feared an attack. The lawsuits details Hagen’s problems with a variety of inmates and his requests to be moved to different cells or another prison.
In October 2011, Hagen was sent to a segregation unit, or “the hole,” for 120 days after he kicked back at an inmate who had tripped and punched him, according to the suits. He was killed shortly after leaving the hole and getting a new cellmate, Terry Lapich.
A grand jury indicted Lapich in November 2013. The status of his case was not immediately available Friday. Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris was not in the office and did not immediately respond to an email seeking information.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.