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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A New Mexico inmate claims he got an overly long and intrusive rectal exam when he went to the prison doctor for a torn meniscus in his knee.
And his complaint isn’t the only one.
Eighteen inmates in two separate civil lawsuits claim they were fondled or given intrusive exams – even when they weren’t needed – by Dr. Mark E. Walden, the prison physician at the time.
The claims that Walden used his position to sexually abuse inmates are being made by men incarcerated at prisons in Santa Rosa and Clayton.
Both prisons are operated under contract with the state by the Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO group, a firm that operates detention and re-entry facilities in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Britain, as well as the U.S.
Walden was an employee of Corizon, a private contractor that provides healthcare services at over 349 correctional facilities across the country. The company, which is based in Tennessee, has a four-year, $177.6 million contract to provide prison medical services in New Mexico at both public and privately run prisons.
Katie Curry of the McGinn Law Firm in Albuquerque, attorney for one group of prisoners suing Walden, GEO Group Inc., Corizon, prison wardens Erasmo Bravo and Timothy Hatch, and health administrator Sherry Phillips, said another attorney represents another 10 or so clients with similar complaints.
“That’s who has come forward, but these guys move around a lot (to other prisons),” Curry said. “I can imagine there are others who are reluctant to come forward.”
The lawsuit filed by Curry alleges at least 25 known victims.
The New Mexico Medical Board is investigating Walden and, on Feb. 18, issued a notice of contemplated action. No hearing has been scheduled, but it is likely to take place in April or May, a board spokeswoman said.
“As a matter of standing company policy, Corizon does not comment on any litigation. However, Corizon can confirm that Dr. Walden is no longer on staff,” said Courtney Eller of DVL Public Relations & Advertising in Nashville, which handles media inquiries for Corizon.
GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez said in an email that the company, as a matter of policy, “cannot comment on litigation related matters, but we can confirm that Mr. Bravo and Mr. Hatch are employed by GEO and Dr. Walden is not employed by GEO.”
Walden, who is now working in a medical practice in Raton, did not return a call for comment.
He also allegedly failed to use proper hygiene and disease prevention techniques by not using gloves when he examined inmates. Prison administrators and Corizon didn’t ensure that a third person was present to protect the integrity of the exams, according to at least one of the suits.
The potential for sexual abuse and sexual misconduct toward inmates by prison employees is well-known institutional problem, the lawsuits say, and administrators have a duty to protect the inmates.
Inmates often view reporting abuse as futile because of the humiliation and retaliation they risk and the prospect of losing access to medical services, the complaints say. Doctors have far greater social status than inmates, further exacerbating the imbalance, they say.
GEO and Corizon should have known about the abuse through inmate reports and the perceptions of staffers such as nurses, “or kept themselves willfully blind” to it, according to Curry’s lawsuit.
“Corizon and GEO did not encourage reporting or documentation of these incidents, and enacted no discipline or retraining of … Walden,” the lawsuit says.
Curry said there was a written complaint about Walden by an inmate in September 2011, “and apparently nothing happens, so it’s literally like the Catholic church where they know something and transfer him someplace else.”
She said lawyers know a copy of the complaint went to State Police and that GEO was made aware of it.
Walden initially worked at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa and was later transferred to the Northeastern New Mexico Detention Facility in Clayton.
One of the consequences of the alleged abuse, Curry said, was that some inmates stopped going to see Walden, even though they needed medical treatment.
The lawsuit says staff became suspicious after Walden was hired “based on observations including a sudden notable increase in volume of digital rectal exams being performed, unindicated digital rectal exams on young inmates (and) refusal by defendant Walden to have a third party present.”
An inmate who went to Walden for urinary tract issues and had an examination that was “excessive and inappropriate” and conducted without gloves reported the incident and had a sexual assault exam performed in Santa Fe, which revealed two anal tears, according to the lawsuit.
“Corizon and GEO did not encourage reporting or documentation of these incidents, and enacted no discipline or retraining of … Walden.”
– McGINN LAW FIRM
A separate lawsuit filed by Frances Carpenter of Albuquerque on behalf of nine more inmates says the abuses began in 2010 and continued through July 2012 during both routine and “symptom specific” examinations. They included digital anal penetration and probing and stimulation of the genitals.
One inmate who saw Walden with a request for hemorrhoid cream was told he need to be examined first, the lawsuit says, and during the exam was penetrated by the doctor’s “entire ungloved fist.” The inmate, who reported the incidents to prison officials, continues to have nightmares and anxiety related to the alleged assault.
Both lawsuits, filed in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, allege negligent hiring and retention, civil rights violations, negligence and breach of contract. They seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Meanwhile, the medical board is expected to set a hearing this spring based on allegations that Walden, during prostate exams on some 17 inmates, “touched or attempted to touch these inmates in an inappropriate, sexual manner.”
The board notice says Walden was subject to a “corrective action” for incomplete medical records that led the Union County General Hospital to terminate his privileges, and he did not report it to the board.
The notice also says Walden’s professional medical liability insurance was canceled and that he gave incorrect information about it on his license renewal in 2011.
Inmates say routine exams turned into horrific assaultsSee PRISON on PAGE A9from PAGE A1Prison doctor accused of sex abuse; inmates claim assaults”Corizon and GEO did not encourage reporting or documentation of these incidents, and enacted no discipline or retraining of … Walden.”<quote_attribution>McGINN LAW FIRM
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal