The Chicago Syndicate: Wrongful-Death Lawsuit Filed by Notorious Mob Whitey Bulger’s Estate Dismissed by Federal Judge #Boston

Friday, January 21, 2022

Wrongful-Death Lawsuit Filed by Notorious Mob Whitey Bulger’s Estate Dismissed by Federal Judge #Boston

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the administrator of James (Whitey) Bulger’s estate, who had argued that prison officials placed the notorious Boston mob boss in harm’s way when they transferred him to a violent federal prison in West Virginia where he was beaten to death in 2018.

In dismissing the lawsuit brought by Mr. Bulger’s nephew, the judge, John Preston Bailey of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, ruled that Congress had given courts little power to intervene in prison housing decisions or to allow prisoners to sue prison officers for damages.

The federal Bureau of Prisons “must provide for the protection, safekeeping, and care of inmates, but this does not guarantee a risk-free environment,” Judge Bailey wrote in the decision, dated Jan. 12. “Decisions about how to safeguard prisoners are generally discretionary.”
James "Whitey" Bulger

Mr. Bulger, who terrorized South Boston for decades, had been serving two life terms for his role in 11 murders when he was killed on Oct. 30, 2018, less than 12 hours after he had been transferred to the Hazelton prison in Bruceton Mills, W.Va., from a prison in Florida.

Cameras caught video images of at least two inmates as they rolled Mr. Bulger, 89, who was in a wheelchair, into a corner, out of the cameras’ view, where he was pummeled with a padlock stuffed inside a sock, law enforcement officials said.

In 2018, a prison official identified one of the suspects as Fotios (Freddy) Geas, a Mafia hit man from West Springfield, Mass., who was serving a life sentence for the killing of a leader of the Genovese crime family. But more than three years later, no one has been charged in Mr. Bulger’s death. The investigation is “still active and ongoing,” according to Stacy Bishop, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the dismissal of the lawsuit. A bureau spokesman also declined to provide information about the investigation, citing the need to protect security as well as privacy concerns.

Henry Brennan, a lawyer for the estate, said he would immediately appeal the decision. “We have repeatedly been told nothing about the so-called ongoing investigation or the facts and circumstances that led to this death,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview. “The Bulger family and the public deserve to know the truth about how and why James Bulger’s death was permitted.”

Mr. Bulger, who was accused of playing a role in the killings of 19 people, had spent 16 years on the run until the authorities found him in 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., with an arsenal of weapons and $822,000 in cash in the walls of his apartment.

Before being transferred to Hazelton, he had spent several years at Coleman II, a federal prison in Central Florida that was known for housing inmates in need of extra protection. In early 2018, Mr. Bulger had clashed with a medical worker at that prison and was placed in solitary confinement.

At about that time, Mr. Bulger, who had several heart attacks in prison, was expecting to be moved to a medical facility, according to a lawyer for his estate.

Instead, according to The Boston Globe, his medical classification was suddenly lowered by prison authorities, which would have indicated that his health had improved, and which might have made possible the transfer to Hazelton.

In October 2020, William M. Bulger Jr., who is Mr. Bulger’s nephew and the administrator of his estate, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, arguing that his uncle had been “subjected to a risk of certain death or serious bodily injury by the intentional or deliberately indifferent actions” of prison officials.

The lawsuit, which sought $200 million in damages, argued that Mr. Bulger’s “reputation as a mob turncoat and killer of women” had guaranteed that he would have “no shortage of enemies” in the prison system.

The lawsuit described the Hazelton prison as continually understaffed and volatile, with a history of violence, and said that prison officials had “openly admitted” that the prison had a “gang-run” yard. It said the prison was known colloquially as “Misery Mountain.”

The prison “was not an appropriate placement of James Bulger, Jr. and was, in fact, recognized as so inappropriate, the appearance is that he was deliberately sent to his death by” prison officials, the lawsuit said.

The suit infuriated relatives of Mr. Bulger’s victims, who said that it rekindled the pain they had been living with for decades.

Mr. Brennan said that although the lawsuit had sought $200 million in damages, there were numerous liens and judgments on the estate, meaning that any money recovered would have gone to pay outstanding judgments to the families of Mr. Bulger’s victims, and to the Department of Justice.

In his decision dismissing the suit, Judge Bailey said Congress had been “conspicuously vocal” about preventing courts from intervening in prison housing decisions and “conspicuously silent” about allowing prisoners to obtain damages from prison officers.

“Through its frequent legislation in the areas of prison housing and prisoner litigation, Congress had many opportunities to create a damages remedy for situations where a housing decision leads to injury,” Judge Bailey wrote. “But it did not do so. Instead, it has repeatedly limited judicial authority to review B.O.P. housing decisions and to entertain claims brought by prisoners.”

Thanks to Michael Levenson and Azi Paybarah.

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