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Washington: Eye Gouging Assault Severely Injures Airway Heights Prisoner

A prisoner who killed his cellmate six years ago has assaulted and severely injured another prisoner at the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane, Washington, according to police. The victim, Chad Bolstad, was attacked by his cellmate, Michael L. West, 34, who previously had been convicted of first-degree murder for killing his cellmate at the Spokane County Jail in 2004.

The assault at Airway Heights, which occurred on October 12, 2010, involved West gouging Bolstad’s left eye out of its socket and severely damaging his right eye, resulting in major vision loss. According to Police Chief Lee Bennett, who was quoted in The Spokesman-Review, “It was pretty graphic. He was using his bare hands.” Following the attack, Bolstad was reportedly in satisfactory condition at a hospital while West was transferred to the maximum-security Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.

Bolstad was scheduled to be released from prison in 2015; he is serving time for assault and robbery charges. West was not scheduled to be released until 2048 on his current convictions, though he will now likely face additional charges as a result of the eye-gouging incident.

Also injured during West’s attack on Bolstad was another prisoner housed in the three-man cell at Airway Heights, Gary L. Welch, who was choked by West with a towel but managed to push a panic button to alert prison staff.

Attorney Jeffry Finer, who represented the family of Spokane County jail prisoner Christopher Rentz – murdered by West at the jail in October 2004 – was at a loss to understand how West managed to make his way to a medium-security prison where he was placed in a cell with other prisoners. “Given his attack on Rentz and how horrific it was, it’s hard to fathom why he would be placed in confinement with any cellmate,” Finer said.

Spokane County paid $180,000 to Rentz’s family in 2007 as a result of West’s fatal assault. [See: PLN, Aug. 2008, p.44; May 2008, p.1]. A spokesman for the Airway Heights facility, Risa Klemme, said that West, Bolstad and Welch had recently arrived at the medium-security prison and were in a temporary cell. “We have a lot of offenders that have committed violent crimes that have earned their way through the classification process,” she stated.

Typically, all correctional facilities are required to examine prisoners’ records and avoid placing high-risk offenders in the same cell as non-violent offenders. This helps to prevent problems such as West’s most recent horrific attack on his cellmates. There was no explanation from prison officials as to why West, with a history of killing a previous cellmate, was not in a maximum-security setting or housed in a single cell.

Sources: The Spokesman-Review, Seattle Times,

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