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Oregon acknowledges negligence in inmate death

Posted Thursday, Sep. 04, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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The state of Oregon has acknowledged that negligence played a substantial role in the death of an inmate who was killed after he repeatedly asked to be protected from the Aryan Brotherhood and was instead transferred to a cell with a member.

The Department of Corrections made the statement in court documents filed on Aug. 22 in response to a lawsuit by the widow of 28-year-old Michael Hagen.

The lawsuit says Hagen told prison administrators he feared for his life after he refused to join the gang. Members concluded he was either an informant or someone who wouldn't fight back.

Inmate Terry Lapich has been accused of beating Hagen to death in 2012. He told prison guards that Hagen fell off his bed.

No prison employees have been disciplined in connection with the death. Each side in the lawsuit has requested a jury trial.

In its legal filing, the state said it violated its own policies when it moved Hagen into a cell with an inmate who had promised to hurt him. However, it denies claims in the suit that violence is prevalent at Oregon prisons, and that its policies, training and discipline structure are inadequate to protect inmates.

Hagen was sent to Snake River Correctional Institution for 17 years in 2010 after robbing a Portland check-cashing store and severely beating a clerk.

His widow and the Department of Corrections agree on a number of developments in the court documents, including that white supremacist inmates quickly learned that Hagen was a talented artist, and Lapich and another inmate asked him to tattoo them.

Hagen declined, saying he didn't want to lose his job as a tutor, a relatively good position within the prison. Lapich and the other inmate persuaded two other inmates to beat Hagen in retaliation for his refusal, the documents state.

Prisoners labeled Hagen a snitch after Lapich and the other inmate were disciplined.

Hagen's new cellmate learned of the snitch allegation and punched Hagen, who told prison officials he needed to get away from the man. The officials declined and told Hagen he could either return to his cell or go to a disciplinary unit, the documents state.

He chose the disciplinary unit and was threatened by eight inmates after his release. Again, he complained to prison officials, who moved him to a different room with another white supremacist gang member who threatened him.

Hagen later told a hearing officer he believed the only way to get moved out of that cell was to fight his cellmate. He charged him in a break room, and the inmate tossed him to the ground and stomped on his head. The documents say Hagen again told prison officials he feared for his life.

Prison officials ruled that Hagen was indeed under a legitimate threat and instructed staff not to return Hagen to the prison's general population.

For reasons that remain a mystery, Hagen was instead returned to that population on Feb. 2, 2012, in a cell with Lapich.

"Shortly after Mr. Hagen entered the cell, audible screams came from inside the cell," according to the lawsuit. "Officer (Donald) Harris heard the screams (and) did not take any action."

The Department of Corrections denied that Harris heard screaming.

Hagen died a day later at a Boise, Idaho, hospital.

Reach the reporters on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/nigelduara and https://www.twitter.com/pdxdub

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