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Ore. to pay $135K settlement with former inmate in civil rights lawsuit over CO’s negligence

The lawsuit alleges the CO failed to shut the inmate’s cell door, allowing two or three other prisoners to follow him inside and assault him

Oregon State Correctional Institution

Oregon State Correctional Institution

Maxine Bernstein/TNS

By Maxine Bernstein

SALEM, Ore. — The state has agreed to pay a former prisoner $135,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit after a guard allowed other prisoners to enter the man’s cell and pummel him without any consequence.

The assault occurred in October 2020 at the Oregon State Correctional Institution, the state medium-security prison in Salem.

Kevin R. Walls was returning to his cell in Unit 4 after lunch and signaled to corrections officer Kevin J. Bowser to open the door to allow him back in.

Bowser opened the door but as Walls stepped inside, Bowser failed to shut it behind him as officers normally did, according to the suit. That allowed two or three other prisoners to follow Walls inside, according to the suit.

The assault lasted about five minutes. Walls suffered blows to his face, head and body and required medical attention for injuries to his ribs, the suit said.

“At one point when Mr. Walls was on the floor on his hands and knees, trying to crawl to the door, the assailants yelled, ‘Don’t let him get up!’ ‘Don’t let him out!’ and ‘Grab him!’ Despite the noise, no one came to Mr. Walls’ aid,” the suit said.

Bowser was fired from the state Department of Corrections in February 2022 and the lawsuit was filed in June of that year, according to state records. Bowser wasn’t charged with any criminal offense.

Bowser had worked as a corrections officer since May 2002.

Another federal civil suit is pending against the Corrections Department implicating the same guard. In that case, two other prisoners, Ricky Exe and Dustin Clark, allege they were assaulted in their cells because Bowser allowed inmates involved in prison gangs access to their cells.

According to state records, Bowser engaged in “negligent security practices,” distributed pain pills that weren’t prescribed to prisoners and provided prisoners access to other contraband. He also was untruthful during an investigative interview, according to a document filed state corrections supervisor Lt. Anthony Asay with the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.

As part of the settlement in Walls’ case, the Corrections Department doesn’t admit any wrongdoing or liability, according to a filing by Assistant Attorney General Dylan Hallman.

Walls, now 63, is no longer in custody. He has a prior conviction for first-degree attempted sexual abuse. He was convicted on other charges in a separate case, but the verdicts were issued by a nonunanimous jury and overturned.

“This was a tremendous harm that could easily have been prevented,” said attorney Maya Rinta, one of Walls’ lawyers.

She said the practice of the guard “popping cells” to allow prisoners to assault another isn’t isolated to Walls’ experience.

“I think Mr. Walls has been brave in coming forward because we filed this while he was in custody,” Rinta said. “If the Oregon Department of Corrections wants to do the right thing, they’d be transparent about what occurred and proactive about what happens to folks to prevent this from reoccurring.”

The state corrections department declined comment on the settlement or Walls’ lawsuit, said Amber R. Campbell, a department spokesperson.

In the other pending federal civil case, two other Oregon State Correctional Institution prisoners, Ricky Exe and Dustin Clark, allege they were assaulted in their cells because Bowser allowed inmates involved in prison gangs access to their cells as well. Attorney John Burgess filed the suit on behalf of Exe and Clark.

Exe was assaulted twice in his cell by members of the European Kindred prison gang in August 2020 as a result of Bowser’s actions, his suit alleges. Exe contends he was targeted because he was what’s called a “dropout” from the European Kindred gang. He said he was sleeping in his cell when he alleges Bowser opened it and let several gang members in who “viciously” assaulted him, according to his suit.

“Bowser remotely opened cells so that EK (European Kindred) gang members could enter the cell of other inmates and assault them,” attorney John Burgess wrote in the suit.

Clark said he was assaulted in his cell in September 2020 when Bowser allowed other inmates in to attack him, according to the suit.

Bowser’s lawyer Andrew Campbell, in response to the suit filed by Exe and Clark, countered that any injuries sustained by Exe or Clark while in custody resulted from the actions of others and not from his client, according to court documents.

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