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Former Federal Prison Lieutenant Michael Anderson Receives Three-Year Sentence for Inmate Death

29 Nov 2023, Jail News, by

Michael Anderson, an ex-prison lieutenant, was handed a three-year sentence in the wake of an avoidable inmate fatality.

Former Federal Prison Lieutenant Michael Anderson Receives Three-Year Sentence for Inmate Death - Inmate Lookup

On Tuesday, a federal prison lieutenant, Michael Anderson, received a three-year prison sentence following the death of an inmate in what prosecutors termed a “completely preventable” tragedy. Anderson, the second-highest-ranking officer at Petersburg Federal Correctional Institution in Virginia during the 2021 incident, faced allegations of negligence and deliberate choices leading to the inmate’s demise.

The inmate, identified only as W.W., experienced a 30-hour medical crisis, succumbing to blunt-force trauma to the head. According to court documents, despite multiple alerts from officers regarding W.W.’s deteriorating condition, Anderson allegedly failed to take appropriate action and later provided false information about his knowledge of the situation.

Jessica Aber, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, stated that the inmate’s death was not the result of inadvertence or a lapse in judgment. She stated that the defendant deliberately made choices that he knew would result in a completely preventable death, despite having the constitutional duty to provide medical care. Aber added that incarcerated individuals are entitled to basic human dignity.

In July, 52-year-old Anderson entered a guilty plea to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law. The case was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General of the Justice Department.

A senior officer, a nurse, and a lieutenant are among the prison staff members who have been charged in relation to the case. In court documents, Anderson’s lawyer, Jessica Richardson, called the tragedy a “collective failure of the staff” and stated that Anderson had accepted responsibility for his role in the incident.

According to court documents, W.W. got ill early in the morning of Jan. 9, 2021, with symptoms including incoherence and an inability to stand. The 47-year-old fell in his cell and hit the floor and walls without medical help.

Court records show Michael Anderson informed the person’s cellmate that he would be checked when he voiced concern. The documents show Michael Anderson did not notify medical staff or request an assessment.

Prosecutors say another lieutenant transported the W.W. from his cell to the medical unit, where a nurse assessed him after Anderson’s shift finished at 2 p.m. He was involuntarily kept for ten hours in a secured, single-occupant suicide watch cell. Court filings did not explain his transfer.

The inmate fell again and hit his head on the doorframe around 6:30 a.m. the next day. Court filings stated that he was naked and bruised on the floor for about an hour and forty minutes before prison officers entered his cell.

The victim was dead when they arrived. An autopsy indicated he died from blunt force trauma to the head, skull fractures, and scalp hemorrhaging.

Prosecutors stated in court documents that Anderson had sufficient opportunities during two shifts on consecutive days to undertake various actions within his authority, all of which would have had no personal or professional repercussions for him. Making a phone call or using his radio could have potentially saved W.W.’s life. Prosecutors argue that Anderson’s criminal indifference resulted in W.W.’s slow, agonizing, and entirely preventable death.

According to court documents, Michael Anderson lied about knowing about the medical problem in an official memorandum after the person died. He said a fellow officer told him the person was “leaning against the wall, looking a little faint,” but he was told they had fallen. His knowledge of the person’s Jan. 10 fall was likewise concealed.

In a voluntary, recorded interview with federal authorities looking into the inmate’s death, he reiterated his claims, and he later admitted in his guilty plea that the statements were false.

According to court documents, Richardson asserted that Anderson’s failure stemmed from not recognizing the severity of W.W.’s condition. Anderson admitted to neglecting to offer needed assistance, acknowledging that this failure significantly contributed to the inmate’s death. Furthermore, he conceded to downplaying his inaction in the official statement to the authorities due to fear and shame for his actions.

Throughout the incident lasting around 30 hours, numerous individuals, including the inmate’s cellmate, prison officers, and observers from the inmate suicide watch, notified supervisors about the person’s condition, seeking assistance.

Prosecutors, in court filings, asserted that the actions of the defendant both before and after W.W.’s death eroded public trust in corrections officers tasked with the care of individuals under their custody.

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Estelle v. Gamble, established that neglecting an individual’s serious medical needs while in prison could constitute cruel and unusual punishment, violating the Eighth Amendment.

Despite this legal precedent, experts in corrections argue that allegations of medical neglect and mistreatment of individuals with mental illness persist as an endemic issue within the U.S. penal system, which was neither designed nor equipped to address such challenges.

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating barriers to mental health treatment, 44 states currently have jails or prisons holding more individuals with mental illness than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospital. Research indicates that people with serious mental health conditions are more likely to be victims of violence than to engage in violent behavior themselves.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s civil rights division emphasized the reliance of inmates entrusted to correctional facilities on correctional officials for basic healthcare, particularly in medical emergencies. Clarke affirmed the Justice Department’s commitment to holding correctional officials accountable for willfully neglecting the serious medical needs of inmates.