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Department of Corrections Will Pay $1.5 Million To Deceased Inmate’s Family

— June 21, 2017

Department of Corrections Will Pay $1.5 Million To Deceased Inmate’s Family

The state Department of Corrections has agreed to pay $1.5 million to the family of an inmate stomped to death in the Monroe Correctional Center back in May 2015.  Gordon Powell, 45, died after a fellow inmate, Benjamin Price, attacked him.  A spokesman for the Washington Department of Corrections confirmed a settlement was reached with the family June 12 but added that the agency never admitted liability.  Price was charged with aggravated first-degree murder. He was found incompetent to stand trial and is again receiving treatment at Western State Hospital.

When detectives first arrived on the scene back in 2015 to investigate, there was no evidence to be found.  The lieutenant on duty that day told the arriving detective, brushing him away, “I have a facility to run.”  Evidently, the Special Offenders Unit lieutenant had ordered the the area be cleaned up shortly after the alleged attack.  The incident occurred on May 9th, 2015, and five days later, the man was taken off of life support at the nearby Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.  He died four days later.  

Department of Corrections Will Pay $1.5 Million To Deceased Inmate’s Family
Gordon Powell, Monroe Correctional Center

The decision to mop the site clean directly violated the Department of Corrections‘ policy requiring that such scenes be preserved. The prison’s own internal investigations wasn’t even notified of the incident until 5pm the following day.  A 28-page “Critical Incident Review” was drafted by the Department of Corrections’ leaders after the discovery, which detailed concerns regarding how the whole situation was handled.  Following the filing, Susan Biller, a spokeswoman at the complex, stated, “The information gathered through incident reviews will be analyzed to identify activities that contributed to the successful outcomes, improve department procedures, policies, training, and practices, and determine if improvements are needed.”

The attack appeared to have occurred unprovoked and without reason.  Powell was in the unit serving time for robbing a liquor store, according to family members.  He was walking back to his cell when Price allegedly charged at him and punched him, sending him to the to the ground before kicking him and stomping on Powell’s head. The attack was recorded on surveillance video.  Powell allegedly asked “What did I do?” before getting kicked in the face.  

Price was serving a 12-year sentence for killing his girlfriend, Dawn Ruger, in 2006.  He had a long history of mental illness, and claimed the woman was putting demons in his head. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter after a long stay at Western State Hospital. Price had also claimed his cellmate was the devil and called Powell “a Satan buddy” after the assault, according to court records.  Many of the  inmates were afraid of Price, and had observed him oddly pacing back and forth just prior to the attack.

Some staff members had also “noted odd behaviors by Mr. Price up to a day or so preceding the incident, but those observations were not shared with overall unit staff in any formal manner and many staff commented during interviews that the behaviors and symptom complaints were part of (Price’s) baseline” behaviors.  “This is somebody that the records suggest to me should definitely have not been classified as someone who should have been with the population of other inmates,” Seattle attorney Ed Budge said. “Other inmates were afraid of him.”

Two officers were ordered to clean up the blood and fluids following the attack, and begrudgingly complied.  They felt forced to follow their supervisor’s instructions.  Internal investigators said they would have ensured the crime scene was preserved and property properly handled if they had been notified when they should have been.  The critical incident report did acknowledge the efforts of staff members and the difficulties of working in the Special Offenders Unit in general. “The staff … have worked closely and consistently for years with this very challenging patient and it is clear that they have done a tremendous job in trying to manage him in the least restrictive environment possible,” the report said. “The documentation is thorough and it paints a clear picture of Mr. Price’s illness” and the unit’s efforts to help him.  Powell’s family is happy to have some closure.


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