A federal inmate threatened another for being gay. Then guards moved them into the same cell
The stepmother of inmate Alec Arapahoe called the prison facility where he was incarcerated to relay a message. It was early August 2014.
She said Arapahoe - who is gay and Native American - told her that other Native American inmates were making threats toward him and that he felt his life would be in danger if he was not placed in protective custody, according to a federal court complaint.
He had specifically named another inmate, William Mexican.
The officials investigated her claims, interviewing Arapahoe, who told them Mexican, named as a gang representative in court documents, and other Native American inmates had "voted [Arapahoe] off the yard," for being gay, the complaint said.
They also interviewed Mexican and the others, according to the complaint, but found "no verifiable threat" to Arapahoe.
About two months later, Mexican was transferred into Arapahoe's cell. The two men were left alone and unsupervised for more than two days, the complaint said.
The brutal beating and multiple rapes that ensued afterward, according to Arapahoe, form the basis of the complaint he filed against 29 prison officials - mostly guards - from the facility.
The federal government agreed to settle the civil rights claim for a maximum penalty of $750,000, according to a settlement agreement his lawyer, David Lane, shared with The Washington Post.
In May 2014, Arapahoe, then 21, pleaded guilty to a federal charge of transporting a stolen car across state lines and was sentenced to nine months in prison.
He was initially incarcerated at the FCI Florence, a medium-security facility on a larger federal prison complex in Colorado, where he tried to conceal his sexual orientation. But according to Arapahoe's court complaint and a plea agreement Mexican later signed, Mexican targeted and harassed him.
Mexican said he had heard Arapahoe was gay, and according to the court complaint, he demanded Arapahoe give him money. He also threatened to assault and rape Arapahoe, and made him watch him work out, the court complaint said. In early August, Mexican told Arapahoe to leave the prison yard or he would be beaten, the complaint and Mexican's plea agreement said.
That was when Arapahoe called his stepmother, Meg Bishop, who passed word of the threats to prison officials.
After Arapahoe was moved to a segregated housing unit at USP Florence, the high-security facility on the same property, the officers investigated his claims, the complaint said.
Video from around that time shows several Native American inmates meeting in the yard, at one point having a discussion so heated, it nearly resulted in a physical altercation, the complaint said. Inmates "voted him off the yard," that day, Arapahoe said, according to the complaint.
Most of the other inmates denied threatening Arapahoe when interviewed by officers; Mexican did not, according to the complaint. He told guards Arapahoe "caused problems on the yard by disrespecting the wrong people" and accused him of calling another Native American inmate a derogatory name, it said.
An inmate investigation report said Mexican claimed Arapahoe would have issues if he returned to the yard. Still, officers said Arapahoe was "deceitful" over the course of their investigation and that "no verifiable threat" existed.
Arapahoe agreed to an interview with The Washington Post but then did not respond to calls or messages.
The investigation report on the incident was sent to the warden of FCI Florence at the time, T. K. Cozza-Rhode.
After he was moved to maximum security, Arapahoe told Robert Martin, a lieutenant of the segregated housing unit at USP Florence, about the threat he believed Mexican posed and requested to talk to the prison warden, the complaint said.
Arapahoe's first cellmate at USP Florence was another inmate who threatened to harm him because of his sexual orientation, according to the complaint.
In mid-September, an officer put a note on Arapahoe's cell window that said Mexican was being transferred to USP Florence, and that Arapahoe would be transferred back to FCI Florence.
But Arapahoe was never transferred, and on Oct. 8, three officers placed Mexican in his cell, according to the complaint.
"Upon information and belief, Defendant Martin made the decision to place Mexican in Mr. Arapahoe's cell, and did so either deliberately or indifferently without performing any investigation as to whether Mexican's placement would create a safety risk for Mr. Arapahoe," the complaint states. "In fact, he did so despite the fact that immediately upon his arrival at USP Florence, Mr. Arapahoe had specifically alerted Defendant Martin to his safety concerns with regard to Mexican."
Martin's lawyer, James N. Boeving, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Mexican was left unsupervised in Arapahoe's cell for two days, the complaint says. He immediately threatened Arapahoe and ordered him to perform a sexual act on him. He wrestled Arapahoe to the ground, choked him until he was unconscious and kneed him in the back and punched his ribs, the complaint says.
That night, Arapahoe was raped and forced to perform oral sex on Mexican, according to the complaint.
Arapahoe used a duress button in his cell multiple times and tried to get the attention of security cameras.
The next day, Mexican forced Arapahoe to clean portions of the cell and perform other humiliating tasks. Then he kicked and punched him, according to the complaint.
"As a result of Mexican's morning and afternoon assault of Mr. Arapahoe, by the afternoon of Oct. 9, 2014, Mr. Arapahoe's face was swollen, and he was unable to walk well because of the injuries to his upper thighs," it says.
That night, Mexican assaulted him again outside the shower, according to the complaint. His blood covered the walls and the floor; Mexican ordered him to clean it up, the complaint says.
Arapahoe's face was cut, swollen and he was unable to open his mouth. His chest and stomach were bruised, the complaint says.
He was raped again. The next morning, about two days after the transfer, when Mexican went to the yard for recreation, Arapahoe was able to tell officers he was not safe, the complaint says. They moved him to another cell and later took him to an emergency room outside of the prison.
Mexican was charged with assault and aggravated sexual abuse, though he was never convicted of sexual abuse. He pleaded guilty to the assault charge in September 2015 and sentenced by a judge to an additional 10 years in prison.
His lawyer, Boston Stanton, declined to comment on the case but noted Mexican was not convicted of assault.
"Go find the plea agreement and find what he pleaded guilty to," Stanton said in a brief phone interview.
Lane said his client maintains that he was raped. He shared prison medical records that said that "inmate was raped."
The special investigative agent's office at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) found that 28 guards and other prison officers had committed departmental offenses. (In addition to those, the complaint also named the the lieutenant at FCI Florence, who does not appear to have been charged with any offenses).
Nineteen prison officers were found to have been inattentive to duty, with the majority not performing required rounds during the time of Arapahoe's assault. Another six were found to have falsified documents, noting that rounds done at 30-minute intervals had been completed when they had not.
Two officers were found to have falsified documents and been inattentive to duty. Martin was found to have been inattentive to duty and to have failed to follow policy.
According to a rule book published by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, inattention to duty is subject to an "official reprimand," or removal if it is a first offense; falsifying statements, including documents, brings a 30-day suspension for first-time offenses.
The Bureau of Prisons declined to answer The Post's questions, citing pending litigation. It also declined to say whether any of the prison officials had been disciplined, adding that it does not discuss staff misconduct allegations for security reasons.
"However, we can share that the BOP is committed to ensuring the safety and security of all inmates in our population, our staff, and the public," an unnamed spokesperson wrote in an email. "Allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and appropriate action is taken if such allegations are proven true."
At least one official resigned, according to the special investigative agent's report.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents Bureau of Prison workers, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Arapahoe's lawyer believes some of the guards should be charged criminally.
"They all signed logs saying they did rounds," Lane said. "And some lied to people in the inspector general's office that was doing the investigation. That is the crime - lying to a federal investigator."
Jason Dunn, the U.S. attorney whose office is defending the government in Arapahoe's lawsuit, declined to comment through a spokesman.
This article was written by Eli Rosenberg, a reporter for The Washington Post.