Journal Staff Writer PROVIDENCE — A former inmate at the Adult Correctional Institutions who accused a guard of forcing him to taste his own feces and of striking him with a telephone book has accepted a $120,000 settlement from the state.
Jim Lee, chief of Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch’s civil division, said the state cut the check Dec. 7 to ex-inmate Michael Walsh, of East Providence. Two days later, Walsh dropped his lawsuit against the state.
Walsh, in his lawsuit, alleged the state, the Department of Corrections and six prison guards had violated his civil rights. Among the guards named in the lawsuit were Capt. Gaulter Botas, of Pawtucket; Lt. Kenneth J. Viveiros, of North Providence; and Officer Ernest Spaziano, of Burrillville.
Michael Healey, spokesman for Lynch, said prosecutors from his office believed Walsh was the victim of serious abuse. The incident took place last Valentine’s Day.
“The correctional officers in question allegedly caused substantial damages to an inmate in their care and custody,” said Healey in a statement. “In an effort to try and do justice for Mr. Walsh, and, frankly, legally, because we were faced with bad facts, we believe that reaching an amicable settlement was and is in the taxpayers’ best interest.”
On Monday, a District Court judge found Botas, Viveiros and Spaziano, three veteran guards, guilty on misdemeanor counts of simple assault. They were convicted of assaulting another inmate, Jose Gonzalez, a convicted drug felon, in Botas’ office last February. Gonzalez was summoned to Botas’ office for questioning about contraband in his cell — soup packets — and suspicion of selling tobacco products.
The guards received suspended sentences and probation. ACI officials have moved to fire them for “numerous violations of departmental policy.” They are fighting to keep their jobs.
The three guards have appealed this week’s criminal convictions and will now stand trial before a jury in Superior Court.
Yesterday, Botas was scheduled to stand trial again in District Court, this time for assaulting Walsh with a phone book. The alleged incident took place in Botas’ office in the ACI’s minimum-security unit.
But Botas’ second trial was delayed after his lawyer filed a motion to move the case to Superior Court for a jury trial.
The motion was granted and Botas is awaiting a trial date.
Healey, Lynch’s spokesman, said state prosecutors will try Botas for allegedly assaulting four other inmates in minimum security. He said that Lt. Viveiros also will stand trial in another case of inmate abuse. No trial dates have been set.
Assistant Attorney General Molly Kapstein-Bronitsky successfully prosecuted Botas, Viveiros and Spaziano. She also will be prosecuting the other guards accused of inmate abuse.
The allegations of inmate abuse came to light last February after ACI Director A.T. Wall called a news conference to announce that nine guards and prison personnel had been suspended for abusing or failing to report the abuse of inmates in minimum security. In the days following the announcement, several inmates came forward and provided statements to an internal investigative unit and state police detectives.
The most egregious case that has surfaced was the allegations involving Walsh, a laborer and single father of a young daughter. He had been serving a short sentence for violating his probation on a shoplifting conviction.
According to his lawyer, Kenneth A. Schreiber, of Cranston, Walsh was suspected of trying to sneak cigarettes into the prison. He was strip-searched and “forced to take [his own] fecal matter and put it in his mouth.”
“I could get more graphic than that, but I’m not going to,” Schreiber said last year. “I’m just going to tell you that it was a day later when he got to wash out his mouth.”
Botas is the only guard who will stand trial in the Walsh case. He is being prosecuted for striking the former inmate in the head with a telephone book. The incident involving the fecal matter is not a crime and he cannot be prosecuted for that.