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The widow of an inmate who was fatally beaten and stabbed earlier this year at the Utah State Prison in Draper has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the Department of Corrections violated her husband's constitutional rights by failing to keep him safe.
The suit alleges that the victim, 24-year-old Jeffrey Ray Vigil, who was in prison for a parole violation, was moved on March 14 to a unit where rival gang members were housed, despite correctional officers being informed that he would be in danger there.
Hours later, Vigil, a member of the Ogden Trece gang, was attacked by members of the Crips gang and transported to a hospital, where he died the next day, according to the suit. An autopsy concluded blunt force trauma and sharp force trauma caused Vigil's death.
Inmates Ramon Luis Rivera, 30, and Albert Collin Fernandez, 38 identified in the lawsuit as members of the Crips have been charged in state court with murder.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court by Chelsie Vigil, seeks $20 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount of money in punitive damages. In addition to the Department of Corrections, Warden Scott Crowther and unidentified correctional officers, who are listed as Doe Prison Guards 1-20, are named as defendants.
The corrections department does not comment on pending litigation but did release a statement Tuesday saying its employees "strive diligently to provide safety" for staff, volunteers and prisoners.
"Correctional officers make numerous complex housing decisions every day based on careful observations of an inmate and their ever-changing circumstances," the statement said. "Among other factors, officers must constantly consider gang affiliations, including the changing dynamics among the gangs; access to necessary medical and mental health treatment; and the availability of educational or programmatic needs to enable people to change their lives for the better."
The lawsuit alleges the guards should have been aware of Vigil's classification and that the move to the Oquirrh I unit was not safe, yet they failed to follow up on "expressed concerns by many individuals."
The correctional officers also were aware or should have been aware that an assault was taking place but did not take immediate steps to stop it, the suit claims. In addition, they were improperly trained on how to handle a medical situation, according to the suit, which alleges it took 45 minutes from the time medical personnel arrived at the prison to get Vigil to the Intermountain Healthcare clinic in Draper.
Vigil was assaulted in a common area of the Oquirrh I housing unit, according to charges filed in 3rd District Court against Rivera and Fernandez. A prison surveillance video shows Rivera confronting Vigil and then Fernandez punching the victim and kicking him multiple times in the head, charging documents say.
After Vigil fell to the ground, Fernandez appeared to be blocking the victim's escape as Rivera stabbed him several times and then placed him in a choke hold until he fell unconscious, the documents say. Rivera then allegedly kicked the unconscious man in the head more than 70 times.
Charging documents say Rivera told Unified Police Department investigators he was the only one who assaulted Vigil and that the confrontation started over "gang s-." The inmate allegedly claimed he started stabbing Vigil with one knife until it broke, then switched to a second knife.
The documents also say there was a strong odor of bleach in Fernandez's cell after the assault and that the inmate had removed his shirt and shoes, which were bright white and also smelled like bleach.
Rivera is charged with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and two counts of possession of items prohibited in a correctional facility, which are second-degree felonies. Fernandez is charged with murder, a first-degree felony, and obstructing justice, a second-degree felony. Both have a preliminary hearing scheduled for October.
According to court documents, Rivera was convicted in 2nd District Court of attempted aggravated murder stemming from an August 2009 shooting in Clearfield. Fernandez's criminal record shows convictions for kidnapping, robbery, attempted theft and attempted possession of a dangerous weapon, among other offenses.
Vigil had a criminal history that included convictions for theft, possession of a forgery device, failure to stop at the command of police and drug possession.