By Christopher Zoukis
Since 2013, former New Mexico prison doctor Mark E. Walden, nicknamed “Dr. Fingers,” has faced allegations that he sexually abused a number of state prisoners. As a result of the alleged sexual assaults, he has been sued at least 15 times by 77 prisoners who were housed at facilities where Walden was employed. While the latest case was filed in January 2017, seven lawsuits have settled since 2013.
Walden, who worked for private medical services provider Corizon Health, had worked at two New Mexico state prisons operated by the GEO Group: Guadalupe County Correctional Facility (GCCF) from 2010 to 2012, and Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility (NNMDF) from February 2012 to July 2012.
The lawsuits filed as a result of Dr. Walden’s alleged improprieties have listed Walden, Corizon and GEO as defendants. Per the terms of the New Mexico Corrections Department’s (NMCD) contract with Corizon, the company and not the state agency must defend against litigation involving medical-related services.
As previously reported in Prison Legal News, Dr. Walden is accused of repeatedly sexually abusing prisoners by giving them inappropriate rectal exams for a variety of unrelated conditions and fondling their genitals. Most of his victims were young adult prisoners. [See: PLN, March 2014, p.1; Sept. 2013, p.47].
According to Brad Hall, an attorney who handled one of the cases against Walden that resulted in a settlement, “[O]ver a period of a couple of years, dozens of inmates [were] victimized, each being told that rectal and prostate exams are normal – and routine – for scrapes, allergies, sore shoulders, sprained ankles or any conditions causing inmates to see the prison doctor.”
One 18-year-old prisoner was scheduled to have a prostate exam each month; in his lawsuit, he alleged that Dr. Walden didn’t even wear latex gloves when conducting the exams. The prisoner was supposedly being treated for diabetes. Court records indicate that Walden performed twice as many rectal exams as other doctors at the GEO-run facilities.
Several prisoners stated they feared retaliation from the doctor or prison guards if they reported the sexual abuse. Others flatly refused to return for repeat examinations or treatment with Dr. Walden.
Some prisoners said Walden had threatened to file false reports against them if they submitted any complaints. And, as was the case of the prisoner with diabetes, prisoners were sometimes in no position to forego medical treatment – so they returned to their appointments with Walden and, as a result, experienced long-term abuse. One prisoner claimed the doctor penetrated him anally using his entire fist.
As this story has developed, Dr. Walden has found himself under fire from a number of sources. He was terminated in 2012. The following year, the New Mexico Medical Board found he had violated five provisions of the state’s Medical Practice Act. He failed a competency test, and his medical license was suspended in 2014 – the same year he filed for bankruptcy. Since 2013 he has been the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In May 2016, NMCD announced that it would not be renewing its contract with Corizon. Instead, state prison officials contracted with another for-profit company to provide medical care to prisoners, Centurion, LLC.
To date, Dr. Walden, GEO Group and Corizon have repeatedly denied the allegations of sexual abuse. Notwithstanding those denials, seven of the 15 lawsuits have been settled, most under confidential terms.
In June 2016, the law firm representing Corizon released a spreadsheet indicating the company had paid nearly $4.6 million to 59 New Mexico state prisoners, many of whom claimed to have suffered at the hands of Walden at GCCF and NNMDF. As reported by the Albuquerque Journal, the settlements included payments to individual plaintiffs that ranged from $7,130 to $192,400 – with 21 awards of more than $100,000 each.
The remaining lawsuits against Walden have been frustrated by the slow-moving federal criminal investigation, which has led the former prison doctor to assert his right against self-incrimination.
“It’s unfair to allow the Fifth Amendment rights of Dr. Walden to preclude indefinitely the timely justice of these inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights to be free indefinitely of cruel and unusual punishment,” said Derek Garcia, an attorney who represents four prisoners in a lawsuit against Walden. See: C.G. v. Walden, U.S.D.C. (D. NM), Case No. 1:15-cv-00250-MCA-WPL.
Sources: www.abqjournal.com, www.santafenewmexican.com
This article original appeared in Prison Legal News on February 8, 2017.