Judge: Ore. officials didn't violate rights of sex offender

Inmate alleged that they subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment from other inmates

By Bryan Denson
The Oregonian

PORTLAND, Ore. — A judge has ruled against an imprisoned sex offender who sued officials at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, alleging that they subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment from other inmates.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon heard testimony in February that extortion and assaults are routine among the 1,700 inmates in the Pendleton prison known as EOCI, and that the most vulnerable of them include sex offenders, the elderly, the disabled, and those who quit prison gangs.

Inmate David George Chandler, serving a long prison term for rape and sodomy in Clackamas County, accused prison officials in a 2008 lawsuit of violating his civil rights by mixing sex offenders with prisoners in the general population. His lawsuit alleged "endemic harassment, menacing, intimidation, coercion, extortion, and assault."

But Chandler's only evidence of physical harm came in 2005, when he complained to a prison staffer that a fellow inmate in an 80-prisoner mental-health dorm grabbed him by the throat, slapped him and called him "rape-o." Chandler required no medical attention.

Simon heard the case in a novel two-day bench trial inside the prison administration building.

He ruled Friday that Chandler failed to prove three key elements of his case: that he faced a substantial risk of serious harm; that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the excessive risks he claimed to face; and that the prison wrongly failed to put him into protective custody.

Simon's 20-page ruling concludes: "Based on the evidence presented at trial, the court finds in favor of the defendants."

The judge's findings are sprinkled with glimpses of the cruel environment inside EOCI, much of it taken from the testimony of three sex offenders who served time there.

All three of the inmates testified that they had faced extortion demands, and two of them paid the money – through their prison commissary accounts – for a time. A third was assaulted for refusing to pay what is known as "rent."

"On one occasion someone attempted to extort this witness," Simon wrote. "When he lived in the general population housing unit, he was told that all sex offenders in that housing unit were paying rent. He refused to pay and was eventually assaulted in his housing unit."

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