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Mobtown Beat

Staying Alive

Judge allows inmate's lawsuit claiming "hit" ordered by gang-tied guard

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Photographs of the aftermath of Brian Medlin’s March 15, 2007, attack on fellow inmate Michael Smith in a Baltimore prison transport van.

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Maryland inmate Michael Smith survived three brutal attacks at three separate prisons over the course of three months in 2007. On Feb. 8, his lawsuit over the attacks—which he contends were ordered by a gang-tied correctional officer (CO) after Smith pulled out of their drug-dealing partnership (“The Big Hurt,” Mobtown Beat, Aug. 4, 2010)—survived an attempt by the state to have it dismissed. Smith’s lawsuit is allowed to proceed against one of its 10 defendants, William O. Filbert Jr., who was the warden at the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) when Smith’s first attack occurred there.

“There are bright lines in this case,” U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte wrote in his order denying the state’s motion for dismissal. “And if the allegations are proven true by Plaintiff, there is no doubt that Filbert knew his conduct crossed those lines.”

Filbert is now the warden of the Maryland Correctional Pre-Release System in Jessup. Rick Binetti, the spokesman for Filbert’s employer, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), said the department has “no comment on active litigation,” but confirmed Filbert’s current position. Attempts to reach Smith and his mother, Brenda Smith, were unsuccessful.

Among its many accusations that prison authorities broke the law, Smith’s lawsuit claims that Filbert illegally withheld medical treatment for him after the attack at BCDC, and instead put Smith in an isolation cell, where he was found hours later, unconscious, and rushed to a hospital. All of the defendants are current or former DPSCS employees who Smith contends failed to uphold their duties in regards to the attacks he suffered.

“Accepting the allegations raised by Plaintiff as true,” Messitte wrote in his opinion, “Filbert ignored the repeated pleas for medical care of a beaten, bleeding man and, rather than providing the care, placed him in an isolation cell where he was less likely to receive help if he needed it.”

Messitte’s opinion noted that “it is alleged Filbert knew about the rampant violence and gang activity in which employees under his supervision were taking part” and emphasized Smith’s claim that “Filbert is aware of a long-standing gang issue at BCDC as well as the fact that some staff members are loyal to some of the gangs at BCDC.” The opinion also states that “the Court takes judicial notice of the numerous reports in the press regarding Division of Correction staff, some of whom were employed at BCDC, cooperating with gang violence and smuggling contraband into correctional facilities on their behalf.”

The allegation that prison officials had ignored indications of COs with gang ties—and that Filbert had ordered a corrections investigator to stop writing memos that identified suspect COs—surfaced previously in another attacked inmate’s lawsuit (“Ganging Up,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 21, 2009), which was settled last year (The News Hole, July 30, 2010). The plaintiff, Tashma McFadden, claimed a gang-tied CO had facilitated his beating and stabbing by a large group of inmates by unlocking his cell to allow his attackers inside.

Though those indications, memorialized in two internal memos naming 16 COs, dated to late 2006 and early 2007, it was not until 2009, when federal authorities indicted four corrections employees along with numerous members of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang (“Black-Booked,” Feature, Aug. 5, 2009), that the seriousness of the problem drew public attention. Since then, prison corruption has become a subject of major concern (“Inside Job,” Feature, May 12, 2010) as more COs have been accused or convicted of gang-related corruption (“Working Overtime,” Mobtown Beat, July 14, 2010).

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