In July 2017, gay inmate Rodrigo Montez Burks was murdered by his cellmate Deshawn Madden at Alger Correctional Facility in Muskegon County, Michigan. Last month, Madden was convicted of first-degree murder. Now, Burks’ family is suing the Michigan Department of Corrections on the grounds that authorities could have prevented the "homophobic" slaying.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Burks’ mother Dequita Burks, alleges that corrections officers knew Madden was violently homophobic and denied to separate the men despite repeated pleas from both.
The suit claims Madden repeatedly told a corrections officer that if he wasn't moved, "I'm gonna hurt this guy.”
“[Madden] boy was like, ’Hey I am not gonna be locked in here with a fag,'” inmate Todd Wentworth told Metro Times. “And the guard was like, ’It’s not our problem.’”
Reportedly, Burks asked the resident unit manager for a new cell assignment the morning he was killed. “She was like, ’You’re not here for convenience,'” Wentworth says. “Basically, we’re not moving you ’cause you wanna move—this ain’t the Holiday Inn.”
"Each of the Defendants named herein ignored the threats and simply left Madden and the decedent Rodriguez Burks, in the same cell knowing that harm would result" to Burks, the lawsuit states. The 21 defendants, all staff members of Michigan Department of Corrections, include Warden Catherine S. Bauman, Deputy Warden Robert Wickstrom and Prison Administrator Dean Potilla.
Burks, then 23, was found face-down in his cell on July 20, 2017, dead from severe head trauma. At the time of his death, he was serving a two-year sentence for fleeing and eluding officers, and was killed nine months before he was eligible for parole.
Madden, now 23, was serving time for carjacking, armed robbery, and assault with intent to commit murder.
The lawsuit also claims the prison staff failed to protect Burks by conducting timely checks on his well-being despite knowledge of the threats against him, and also failing to respond to the assault he suffered.
Burks was African-American (as is Madden). The lawsuit in question alleges the prison failed to have policies in place to protect homosexuals or African-Americans from harm.
As reported by M Live, the lawsuit seeks $75,000 in damages for each of four counts, including gross negligence, racial discrimination and cruel and unusual punishment.