The family of James “Whitey” Bulger has filed a civil rights lawsuit against US Bureau of Prisons employees, accusing them of causing his murder two years ago by transferring the 89-year-old former gangster to a West Virginia prison, where he was killed by fellow inmates less than 12 hours after his arrival.
The suit, filed Friday in federal court in West Virginia, described Bulger as “perhaps the most infamous and well-known inmate” to be incarcerated in a federal prison since Al Capone and alleged he was “subjected to a risk of certain death or serious bodily injury by the intentional or deliberately indifferent actions” of prison officials.
The actions and practices of prison officials “are shocking to the conscience of civilized persons and intolerable in a society governed by laws and considerations of due process,” the lawsuit alleged. The lawsuit was brought by William Bulger Jr., Bulger’s nephew and administrator of his estate, against 30 unnamed employees, including the former wardens of US Penitentiary Hazelton, where Bulger was killed, and US Penitentiary Coleman II, where he was incarcerated before his controversial transfer.
The suit seeks unspecified damages, but comes a year after Bulger’s family filed a wrongful death claim with the Justice Department demanding $200 million. The government has yet to act on that claim, but Bulger’s family expects it will be denied and had to file suit before the statute of limitations expired, according to the lawsuit.
No one has been charged with Bulger’s murder. On Tuesday, Stacy Bishop, a spokeswoman for William Powell, US attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, said, “The FBI’s investigation is active and continues.”
Bulger, who had been publicly identified as a longtime FBI informant who provided information against local Mafiosi, was sent to Hazelton and placed in general population alongside Massachusetts organized crime figures.
Two of those figures, Fotios “Freddy” Geas, a Mafia hitman from West Springfield serving a life sentence for two gangland murders, and Paul J. DeCologero, part of a Mafia-aligned group, are suspected of beating Bulger, according to several people familiar with the investigation.
Bulger arrived at the prison in Bruceton Mills, W.Va., at 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2018. The following morning, officers found his bloodied body wrapped in a blanket. He’d been beaten with a lock stuffed in a sock, officials said.
The former South Boston crime boss was serving a life sentence after his 2013 conviction for killing 11 people while running a sprawling criminal enterprise from the 1970s through the 1990s.
According to the lawsuit, Bulger deteriorated physically and mentally while being held in segregation at the Plymouth House of Correction for two years while awaiting trial and was using a wheelchair by the time he was convicted in federal court in Boston. Bulger began serving his life sentence at USP Tucson, known as a “soft yard,” where inmates were placed when they were in need of protection from other inmates, according to the lawsuit.
At the Arizona prison, another inmate entered Bulger’s unlocked cell and “stabbed him in the head while he lay there sleeping,” according to the suit. The inmate “was motivated by the fact that his deed would be celebrated by certain inmates and guards alike and he would achieve status or ‘street cred’ for attacking such an infamous criminal figure,” the suit stated.
The Globe previously reported that Bulger suffered a minor scratch on the head in that April 2014 attack, then spent two months in segregation while prison officials investigated.
In September 2014, Bulger was transferred to USP Coleman II in Sumterville, Fla., where he continued to have health issues and “had various disputes with staff regarding treatment for his medical conditions,” the suit stated.
The Globe has previously reported that Bulger spent his last months at the Florida prison in solitary confinement after a verbal confrontation with a nurse. In letters written in the months before his death, Bulger indicated he was in a wheelchair, suffered numerous heart attacks, and was expecting to be transferred to a federal medical facility. Instead, prison authorities changed his medical classification, indicating he required less care because his condition had markedly improved. That cleared the way for his transfer to Hazelton, which offers fewer medical services.
The suit notes that Hazelton, dubbed “Misery Mountain” by inmates, is “a particularly violent place, where inmate on inmate violence runs rampant and has for many years.”