Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the law enforcement agency an inmate complained to in July 2012. It has been corrected below.
Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
A 15th lawsuit has been filed against a former New Mexico prison doctor accused of sexual assault in performing unnecessary, intrusive rectal exams on inmates at two state prisons.
To date, about 78 inmates have alleged in lawsuits that they were sexually victimized by Dr. Mark Walden, with three others claiming he provided inadequate medical care, according to federal court records.
The latest case was filed Dec. 21 by a Guadalupe County Correctional Facility inmate who contended he didn’t come forward earlier partly because he was embarrassed and feared retaliation from corrections officers, medical personnel and other inmates. The prison is near Santa Rosa.
Seven lawsuits filed since 2013 against Walden; the national medical firm Corizon Inc., which hired him; and private prison operator, The Geo Group Inc., have settled out of court.
Some were settled within months of being filed; at least two before the defense had formally responded to the allegations.
Walden, whose medical license has been suspended by the New Mexico Medical Board, lost his job after an inmate complained to the Clayton Police Department in July 2012.
Walden, Corizon and The Geo Group have denied the lawsuits’ allegations.
Albuquerque attorney Frances Carpenter, who filed two of the earliest lawsuits against in 2013, told the Journal she hopes the litigation underscores the need for reporting of sexual crimes in prison.
“I think these cases have created an awareness that this happens, and we’re hoping that other inmates who suffer sexual abuse aren’t afraid to come forward,” she said. “That’s the only way to ensure things like this don’t happen again.” She said the amount her clients received is confidential.
Many of the lawsuits allege that Corizon and The Geo Inc. were “willfully blind and dumb” to what was occurring, or at least should have known that Walden was “abusing his patients.”
“When made aware of possible instances of sexual abuse and potential violations of inmate rights, companies such as GEO and Corizon cannot simply maintain the status quo at their facilities, but must act immediately to put a stop to such misconduct,” Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall in a lawsuit that settled in May 2014.
“Otherwise, as happened here, over a period of a couple of years, dozens of inmates are victimized, each being told that rectal and prostrate exams are ‘normal’ and ‘routine’ for scrapes, allergies, sore shoulders, sprained ankles or any conditions causing inmates to see the prison doctor,” Hall alleged.
The lawsuits contend Walden spent longer than average time with inmates in the examination room. He performed twice as many digital rectal exams per month as other doctors who worked at the prison. And he used a privacy screen with virtually every patient.
There was a “sudden notable increase in volume of digital rectal exams being performed, unindicated digital rectal exams on young inmates, refusal by Walden to have a third party present during exams,” according to one lawsuit.
Medical records allegedly showed one inmate went to Walden for an eye problem and got a rectal exam. Another sought medical treatment for an asthma condition and was told to drop his pants for a rectal exam. One 18-year-old inmate was ordered to have prostate exams monthly.
Federal court records show Corizon and The Geo Group denied the allegations when they responded to the lawsuits, which allege civil rights violations, medical malpractice and negligence. Walden said in courts records he never sexually abused or fondled anyone.
Walden worked at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility from July 2010 to February 2012. He transferred to the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility in Clayton and worked there from February 2012 to July 21, 2012.
The GEO Group, based in Florida, operates both the prisons under a contract with the state Corrections Department, which also pays Corizon to provide medical treatment at two facilities.
Other lawsuits filed against Walden are on hold pending a criminal investigation overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors have been building a criminal case against Walden since early 2013.
Walden, 57, filed for bankruptcy in 2014.
Inmates called Walden “Dr. Fingers,” according to one lawsuit, which alleges that the physician was “serially sexually assaulting” inmates at Guadalupe County Correctional Center, and was “unfit to practice medicine in that environment.”
Another inmate’s lawsuit alleged that Walden’s reputation for sexual misconduct during exams was “common knowlege” inside the prison in 2011.
Some inmates refused to go back to Walden for medical treatment after the sexual contact. Another inmate had to continue seeing Walden because he needed regular treatment for his diabetes.
Others refused to go to follow-up appointments that Walden requested because there was no medical reason indicated.
Several said they feared retaliation.
Walden allegedly told one inmate “he had gotten another inmate sent to segregation for attempting to report Walden’s conduct, and threatened he would do the same to B.H. if B.H. ever attempted to report the abuse,” one lawsuit said.
Another plaintiff, identified only as G.M., stopped the “inappropriate digital exam” and “pulled his pants up,” his lawsuit said. Walden is alleged to have told G.M. he would not provide further medical treatment and would report G.M. for drug seeking if he reported the incident.
The most recent case filed by an inmate identified only as “O.F.” alleges he went to Walden for treatment of diabetes and Walden fondled, and played with his left testicle and penis, and used his ungloved finger to penetrate the inmate’s rectum.
Nearly two years later, the inmate filed a grievance over the incident with prison officials.
But his lawsuit said he wasn’t told of the outcome of the internal investigation until this September, when a Corrections Department notified him the case had been resolved and that he could “take whatever action you deem appropriate.”
The New Mexico Medical Board investigated the sexual misconduct and other allegations against Walden, finding in 2013 that he violated five provisions of the state Medical Practice Act.
A competency test later ordered by the board found Walden deficient in several areas of medicine.
The board in November 2014 suspended Walden’s license but left the door open to eventual reinstatement if he completes a “full residency” program in medicine, such as a residency at the University of New Mexico.
Court records show Walden is appealing the board’s decision to state district court.