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Feds investigating doctor accused of abusing inmates

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Violations alleged at two contract prisons in New Mexico

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

A former prison physician accused of fondling multiple inmates during medical exams at two contract men’s prisons in New Mexico is under criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Dr. Mark Walden has also been suspended from the practice of medicine and has filed a notice of bankruptcy.

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The Justice Department’s notification to Walden that he is the target of an inquiry into the alleged violation of inmates’ civil rights is revealed in documents filed in three civil lawsuits now consolidated in U.S. District Court.

Documents say Walden was notified in writing that “he is the target of a criminal investigation regarding alleged sexual abuse of male inmates at the Northeastern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Clayton and at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa.”

The prisons are privately operated by Corizon Inc.

The civil lawsuits against Walden, Corizon and others were filed on behalf of about three dozen current or former inmates at the two prisons by attorneys Katie Curry, Brad Hall and Frances Crockett Carpenter. Defendants moved the case to federal court.

Walden’s attorney in the civil lawsuit said she does not comment on pending litigation. But in an answer she filed on behalf of Walden in one of the civil lawsuits, he denied performing any digital rectal exams that were not medically necessary or that were inappropriate in length or methodology. He denies sexually abusing inmates at anytime or that any conduct on his part was unreasonable, cruel or harmful.

Walden also contends that the claims are barred by the statute of limitations and the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act.

The inmates have made claims in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to protect any recovery they may receive in the civil litigation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Torgerson stayed the civil cases in August until the bankruptcy is resolved. Walden was entitled to an automatic stay by virtue of his bankruptcy filing.

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Torgerson extended the stay to other defendants, including Walden’s former employer The Geo Group Inc., now called Corizon, wardens Erasmo Bravo and Timothy Hatch, and the health services administrator.

There are no details on the Justice investigation, which has apparently been underway since before the civil litigation began in March.

According to a statement from Corizon, the company “is unaware of any criminal proceedings being filed at this time. We will cooperate fully with any investigations related to this matter.”

The wardens, Geo and Corizon filed answers in the civil cases in which they have denied allegations of negligent hiring and supervisions, medical malpractice and civil rights violations.

The inmates have asked the court to permit the litigation to go forward without revealing the names of the plaintiffs because of the potential of greater harm and victimization. But one of Walden’s attorneys in the civil suits has denied sexual abuse allegations contained in the request and opposed the request for anonymity, saying inmate lawyers are engaged in a media campaign to “impact the pending litigation.”

Walden’s attorney Nicole Charlebois said in a written filing that the unnamed plaintiffs attacked Walden in the media before even serving him with the complaint. Plaintiffs’ lawyers, she said in the filing, are “manipulating the underlying litigation, tainting the public perception and tainting the potential jury pool,” and that Walden has a right to know his accusers, “especially in light of their aggressive media tactics.”

Suspension

The New Mexico Medical Board suspended Walden from practice in July, after sending him notice of contemplated action and getting input from two physicians hired as experts who reviewed available records. The board ordered Walden to undergo a thorough psychological evaluation arranged by the New Mexico Monitored Treatment Program, which was to send its findings and recommendations to the board for review.

The recommendations “must demonstrate to the board’s satisfaction that (Walden) is fit to safely practice medicine.” The board will then determine his further licensure status.

The board hired as experts a urologist with 33 years experience, including 5½ years participating in a prison clinic, and an emergency medicine physician described as having expertise in correctional medicine.

The urologist said his review of the evidence indicated “sexual contact with a patient” by Walden on many occasions that were not legitimate medical procedures and constituted sexual abuse.

The second physician found that Walden had not breached the standard of care and that his treatment of inmates was appropriate for the patient complaints documented in medical records. That doctor questioned the credibility of the inmates’ statements “because several of them indicated (Walden) had examined them without gloves, which (he) found very unlikely to have actually occurred.”

Walden invoked his Fifth Amendment right and refused to testify at the medical board hearing.

Among over 40 pages of proposed factual findings:

  • Walden regularly performed digital rectal examinations of inmate patients in their 20s and 30s. The Clayton prison offered exams routinely for men over age 50 and for men under 50 if they had specific complaints warranting such an exam.
  • He did twice as many rectal exams each month as any other doctor at the Clayton facility, according to a prison nurse.
  • A 40-year-old patient at the prison in Clayton asked a corrections officer as the inmate left the medical unit in July 2012 “if (Walden) was gay, and expressed discomfort with the examination he had received.” The officer prepared a statement based on the inmate’s statements that the doctor had turned him over and stroked his genitals. That was the only comment about any presumed sexual orientation of the doctor.
  • Another patient reported on Aug. 5, 2012, that Walden had “played with” his testicles without gloves.
  • A 28-year-old inmate reported that Walden called him for medical exams for three weeks straight on a Friday or Saturday, gave him a rectal exam and studied his penis.
  • Another inmate filed a grievance about an Aug. 20, 2012, incident in which he said Walden asked him to drop his pants, rubbed his genitals and asked if it felt good.
  • In patient statements provided by the facilities in response to a subpoena by the board, Walden diagnosed a prostate condition not confirmed by an independent analysis.
  • Inmate patients are generally not referred out because of time, expense and safety issues in transporting prisoners off site.
  • Only one patient at Santa Rosa filed a grievance with a nurse.

The hearing officer noted inmates “may be manipulative and will commonly do things for purposes of secondary gain,” such as getting strong pain medicine, special shoes or mattresses.

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