Associated Press Investigation ordered
GREAT FALLS (AP) - A Great Falls public defender is seeking broad powers to investigate charges of cruel and unusual punishment at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.
The Montana Supreme Court ordered the investigation after inmate Mark Walker of Great Falls wrote to the court about conditions under which he was being held.
Walker said that, under a behavioral modification plan to discourage misconduct, he was locked naked in a chilly concrete cell and forced to sleep on the concrete.
He claimed there was feces and dried blood on the cell wall from a previous inmate, and that sandwiches were removed from their wrappings and placed on a dirty cell-door tray or thrown onto the floor.
The high court ordered an investigation last month and sent the case back to District Judge Kenneth Neill, of Great Falls, who had sentenced Walker to prison for bad checks and arson.
The Supreme Court directed Neill to appoint an attorney to investigate Walker's charges. Neill assigned the case to Public Defender Eric Olson, who said his investigator would need an order from the court granting full access to prison facilities and records, and an interview with Walker that is not monitored by prison officials.
Olson also asked the judge to order prison officials to allow the investigator to bring pens, pencils, notebooks and a tape recorder into the prison.
"Counsel's investigator shall be permitted to remove copies (of records) from the prison with him when he exits the prison," said Olson's motion. "This condition is necessary in order to prevent interference with the investigation."
Neill has set a hearing on the motion for 10 a.m. Thursday.
Walker's treatment was part of a behavior management plan designed to persuade him to change his ways and resulted in improved behavior by Walker, according to Dave Ohler, chief attorney for the agency.
He conceded that Walker's cell did have blood on the wall, the floor was dirty and sticky, the food slot was dirty and the cell did not have running water. Ohler said the dirty conditions were caused by Walker.
The Supreme Court said the question of whether conditions of Walker's confinement has violated his rights was part of the penalty phase of the criminal proceedings that landed him in prison, and, therefore, that he deserved a court-appointed attorney to investigate the allegations.
Justice Karla Gray and Chief Justice Jean Turnage dissented, saying Walker's case amounts to a claim of civil rights violations that does not belong before the high court.