Officer ignored dying inmate he promised to help, feds say. He’s sentenced to prison

After the second-highest ranking officer at a Virginia prison was asked to respond to an inmate in medical distress, federal prosecutors said he promised to help, but didn’t act on that promise.

Now, Michael Anderson, 52, the former Federal Bureau of Prisons lieutenant accused of ignoring the medical needs of the inmate who died the next day, is going to prison, the Department of Justice announced in a Nov. 28 news release.

The inmate, identified as W.W., lay “dead or dying” for over an hour and a half before his body was found in his cell following a 30-hour medical crisis at the Federal Correctional Institution at Petersburg in January, court documents say.

On Jan. 9, 2021, another correctional officer asked Anderson to help the 47-year-old man, leading to Anderson visiting his cell, according to prosecutors, McClatchy News reported.

There, a concerned cellmate said W.W. “was not doing well and was not himself,” court documents say.

Anderson told this inmate he’d get W.W. medical attention after witnessing his symptoms — including incoherence, not being able to stand and constantly falling down — then never alerted medical staff or other officers, according to prosecutors.

W.W. was found dead the next day after nearly two days of repeated falls, resulting in serious head and bodily injuries he died of while isolated in a suicide watch cell, where he was transferred to during his medical emergency, prosecutors wrote in court documents.

Minutes after W.W.’s last fall on Jan. 10, 2021, when he fell into a door frame and hit his head, Anderson was made aware but “failed to act” again, according to prosecutors.

“As W.W. laid alone on the floor, naked and covered in bruises and abrasions, no correctional officer responded to his medical emergency or otherwise rendered aid to W.W. for nearly an hour and forty minutes,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing document.

The sentence

On Nov. 28, a judge sentenced Anderson to three years in prison for violating W.W.’s civil rights by showing deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, the Department of Justice said in the release.

McClatchy News contacted Anderson’s defense attorney, Jessica A. Richardson, for comment on Nov. 28 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

“Correctional officials have a constitutional duty to ensure that those experiencing a health crisis or medical emergency are not ignored but instead are treated like human beings and provided basic life-sustaining care,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

Ahead of Anderson’s sentencing, prosecutors argued in support of a lengthier prison sentence — from four years and nine months to five years and 11 months, court filings show.

In a sentencing memo submitted on Anderson’s behalf, Richardson wrote that her client acknowledges that as a higher-ranking officer, he was responsible for alerting medical staff about W.W.’s medical emergency but didn’t do so.

However, Richardson said that W.W. died due to the “collective failure of the staff at the facility” and that Anderson didn’t intend for his death to happen.

Another Federal Correctional Institution at Petersburg lieutenant, Shronda Covington, and nurse, Tonya Farley, were charged with ignoring the serious medical needs of an inmate, “W.W.” in January 2021, McClatchy News reported.

A defense attorney representing Farley, Jeff Everheart, told McClatchy News on July 14 that the accusations against Farley and Anderson involve the same inmate. He said Farley pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On April 22, 2024, a five-day jury trial for Covington, Farley and a third defendant is scheduled to take place, court records show.

In regards to Anderson, Richardson wrote “while this was a reckless disregard of his responsibilities, this was not an intentional crime. Anderson did not stand by and expressly watch this inmate die and he did not overtly act with the purpose of causing W.W.’s death.”

Prior to his sentencing, Anderson said in a statement that he “made a very grave mistake of not understanding the seriousness of (his) decision making as a lieutenant,” according to his sentencing memo.

“This resulted in the loss of (W.W.), which is something that I have been dealing with ever since,” Anderson wrote. “I have been with the Federal system for 17 years and I understand the stress a family goes through in having their loved ones in the penal system. I truly apologize to (W.W’s) family for my failure and I pray for healing.”

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