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Failed Extortion Scheme Led to Washington Prisoner’s Suicide Attempt, Lawsuit Says

by David M. Reutter

According to a suit filed on behalf of a Washington state prisoner who attempted to commit suicide, a guard at the McNeil Island Corrections Center retaliated against prisoners who failed to pay extortion fees.

Leon G. Toney was left in a coma and permanent vegetative state after trying to hang himself in his segregation cell at McNeil on September 18, 2008. The lawsuit says he had a history of depression and suicidal ideation.

Toney’s suicide attempt came only six-and-a-half hours after being placed in segregation when he was found with a cell phone charger. Preceding the discovery of the charger, prisoner Luis Perez was caught with a cell phone after a guard heard a female voice coming from his cell. A search of the phone revealed nude photos of Toney.

An investigative report by Washington State Patrol detective Juli Gundermann uncovered information that formed the basis for part of the lawsuit. Her report noted that Toney had lost his visitation privileges for 90 days when he was caught engaging in sexual conduct with his wife, Rene Matthews, in the prison visitation room on July 18, 2008.

Gundermann was briefed by Washington State Department of Corrections chief investigator George Gilbert about details of his investigation. Gilbert learned that prison guard Natasha Davson was smuggling cell phones to prisoners for $500 and allowing them to have sex with visitors for $150. The sex acts allegedly occurred in an area known as “the boom boom room.” Prisoner Ronnie Hamilton informed Gilbert that the July 18 disciplinary charge was a result of Rene not paying Davson for her visit with Toney.

Davson was fired before her probationary period ended. She also was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor count of introduction of contraband, but the charge will likely be dropped due to the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations, stated deputy prosecutor Kevin Benton.

The investigation determined there was no foul play and Toney had hung himself. The prison’s video cameras, however, revealed that guards did not make cell checks as recorded in the log book.

The lawsuit claims Toney tried to commit suicide due to a failed extortion scheme that resulted in fabricated disciplinary charges, which put pressure on him and increased his depression and loneliness. An hour before he attempted suicide, Toney told a nurse he had not slept in two or three days and gave her a medical request seeking help. The nurse later wrote in Toney’s medical file that his situation was not emergent and he was not going to hurt himself.

The failure to act on that information in light of Toney’s mental health history resulted in his suicide attempt, the lawsuit contends. Toney is represented by John R. Connelly, Jr. and Nathan P. Roberts of Tacoma. The suit remains pending. See: Toney v. State of Washington, Pierce County Superior Court (WA), Case No. 10-2-05353-6.

Additional sources: The Olympian,

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Related legal case

Toney v. State of Washington