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Spokane Jail Prisoner Murdered in Cell, County Settles Lawsuit for $180,000

The Spokane County, Washington, Commissioner has agreed to settle a civil rights action prosecuted by the family of a prisoner who was murdered by his cellmates at the Geiger Correction Center (Geiger) in Spokane County for $180,000.

In October of 2004, 21-year-old Christopher L. Rentz was being held at Geiger on a charge of stealing $23.04 worth of gasoline and assaulting a gas station attendant who tried to stop him. Although Rentz had no history of violence and was mentally ill, he was placed in a cell with two extremely violent prisoners, Michael L. West, awaiting trial for kidnapping, raping, and assaulting his girlfriend in May of that year, and Brandon W. Martin, awaiting trial for gunning down two teenagers at a party and trying to shoot a third in 2003. Rentz told Geiger guards that he feared for his safety in the cell, but he was not moved.

An unnamed Geiger guard admitted hearing the attack over the intercom speaker in Rentz’ cell. But he said all he did was ask what was happening over the intercom. He said he couldn’t understand what was said in response to his question over the scratchy intercom but didn’t investigate the incident any further. West, with Martin’s assistance, sexually abused Rentz, beat him with a broom handle, cut his throat with a razor blade and strangled him to death with a sheet .

Rentz’ family filed a civil rights lawsuit on his behalf in federal district court. In September of 2007, the Spokane County Commissioner approved a settlement agreement for $180,000.
West pleaded guilty to a charge 1st degree murder for his part in the killing. He received a sentence of 23 1/3 years. Martin got 27 2/3 years for his part.

Spokane County Undersheriff, Jeff Tower, denied any wrongdoing, saying that he had a “sense of regret,” but any “acts of the county Sheriff’s Office did not lead directly to the death of Christopher Rentz. It was the two people who have been held accountable.” See: Rentz v. Spokane County, USDC EDWA No. 2:05-CV-00083-LRS (2007).

Additional Source: Spokesman-Review

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Related legal case

Rentz v. Spokane County