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Washington Pays $665,000 to Prisoner Injured In Racially Motivated Attack

On May 30, 2007, the State of Washington agreed to pay $635,000 to a black prisoner who was injured in an attack by white prisoners. The white prisoners were members of a ?Security Threat Group?. The plaintiff was also allegedly a member of a black prison gang, the Black Gangster Disciples.

While imprisoned at the Clallam Bay Correctional Center on October 13, 2002, Plaintiff James Wilkinson, a black man, was attacked by James Curtis and Steven Eggers, members of the Aryan Family, a white supremacist gang. Wielding improvised weapons?one consisting of a razor blade melted into the end of a toothbrush, the other a metal chair handle sharpened to a point?the attackers entered Wilkinson?s cell, locked the door behind them, and proceeded to slash and stab Wilkinson. The attackers then used the razor to carve the initials ?AF? into Wilkinson?s lower back. At the time of the attack Curtis was awaiting trial in Mason County on three strike charges that he had assaulted a guard at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton.

Wilkinson sued the State following the attack alleging that it failed to keep him safe. Wilkinson claimed the State had a duty to protect him since prison officials knew that members of the Security Threat Group?of which his attackers were members?believed he was a snitch and thought he was working with prison officials to entrap members of the group. And, there was evidence that a few days prior, the prison was warned that an attack was being planned but the state did nothing to prevent it.
Wilkinson also contended that prison officials failed to implement policies and practices to stem racial violence at the prison and that the facility was not designed to be operated as a maximum security prison because the cell doors operated on hinges with locks that are easily rendered inoperable by exerting the slightest pressure against the door, a fact known to prison officials and prisoners since the facility opened in 1986.

Wilkinson further claimed that after the attack he received inadequate medical treatment in the prison infirmary and that Physician?s Assistant Phyllis Ellis deliberately prevented him from receiving outside medical care. Receiving appropriate medical care, Wilkinson claimed, could have diminished or mitigated the physical injuries and scarring that he suffered as a result of the attack. Wilkinson worked out a separate settlement with Ms. Ellis for an additional $30,000.00.

The State ultimately agreed to a stipulated settlement of $635,000, which includes $150,000 to purchase an annuity. No additional attorneys? fees or costs were awarded.

During the course of the lawsuit the DOC conceded that it made housing placements of prisoners based on their race and that race served as a proxy for real and imagined gang affiliations. Wilkinson claimed this deliberate form of racial segregation created a racially hostile environment that led to his attack. As reported in PLN, the CBCC has long been a bastion of white supremacy by its staff and the DOC has settled several race discrimination and hostile work environment suits brought by its minority employees at the facility, few of whom stay there for long. As part of the settlement the DOC agreed to end its race-based cell and pod assignment policies. The criminal prosecution of Eggers and Curtis for the assault on Wilkinson is still ongoing five years later, with Wilkinson having agreed to testify for the state.

Wilkinson was represented by attorneys Jesse Wing and Jay S. Brown of the venerable Seattle, Washington, law firm MacDonald, Hoague & Bayless. See: Wilkinson v. State of Washington, Thurston County Superior Court, Case No. 05-2-02407-8 and Wilkinson v. Vail, USDC WD WA, Case No. C05-CV-5656.

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Wilkinson v. State of Washington

Wilkinson v. Vail