A 2013 booking photo of Alec Arapahoe. Longmont Police Department.
The federal government has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Alec Arapahoe, a former Colorado inmate who says he was brutally assaulted and raped over a three-day period by a fellow prisoner placed in his cell despite previously threatening him because he's gay.
That's a significant sum — but attorney David Lane, who represents Arapahoe, sees it as wholly inadequate. He blasts the Colorado damage cap on complaints filed under tort law that pertain to civil claims of pain and suffering, arguing that Arapahoe would have received "in the multi-millions of dollars" for what was done to him without this limitation. And while more than twenty prison guards were disciplined for assorted infractions related to the abuse that took place, he believes some or all of them should be prosecuted criminally in part because of his theory that housing Arapahoe and his tormentor together was "a setup."
We first reported about Arapahoe in January 2013, when, at age twenty, he was accused of tasing his grandmother and great aunt in Longmont. In May of the following year, as reported by the Washington Post, he was imprisoned at FCI (Federal Correctional Institution) Florence after entering a guilty plea for driving a stolen car across state lines. The length of his sentence: nine months.
That August, according to Lane, who spoke to us about the case in January, when the temporary government shutdown threatened to delay the matter, Arapahoe "was chased off the yard by some gangbangers. They said, 'You're gay. We don't let gays on the yard.'" Shortly thereafter, he "ended up checking into protective custody" at another nearby facility, USP [United States Penitentiary] Florence. "At that point, he had no freedom to move about anywhere. He was locked down, but at least he was safe."
The scenario changed after "the inmate who threatened him, a guy named William Mexican, wound up being disciplined for something. They sent him to administrative segregation" at USP Florence, "and they not only put him in the same unit as Alec, but in the same cell. And over a two-day period, Mexican brutally beat and repeatedly raped Alec Arapahoe."
Attorney David Lane sees what happened to Alec Arapahoe as a likely setup. 9News file photo
Before any of this happened, the complaint contends, Arapahoe had told a lieutenant in the segregated housing unit at USP Florence about the specific danger Mexican posed to him, and even asked to talk to the warden about the situation. But the lieutenant assigned him to be Arapahoe's cellmate anyway, "either deliberately or indifferently without performing any investigation as to whether Mexican’s placement would create a safety risk for Mr. Arapahoe," the suit maintains.
Afterward, Mexican was charged with assault and aggravated sexual abuse, but the latter accusation fell away when he agreed to plead guilty to the former. In September 2015, he was sentenced to ten years in prison on top of the jolt he was serving. In the meantime, a July 2016 Federal Bureau of Prisons report recommended that allegations against a slew of USP Florence personnel be sustained.
The suit references twenty staffers guilty of inattention to duty because they didn't perform scheduled rounds during the time the attacks on Arapahoe were taking place, with another eight having falsified documents to make it seem like they'd kept to their timetable when they didn't.
Thus far, the feds haven't shared with Lane any details about the punishment meted out against the prison personnel, but he finds it hard to believe that all of them were simply being lazy. As he sees it, "They lied to investigators — and that's what Michael Cohen," President Donald Trump's former attorney, "is going to jail for." He thinks this crime should lead to a stint in federal prison for the offenders — and he also suspects that indictments would likely loosen tongues enough to reveal whether the guards actually conspired to put Arapahoe and Mexican together.
U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, who defended the United States against the lawsuit, declined to comment about the settlement.
Lane, meanwhile, says the $750,000 ponied up by the feds will be helpful for Arapahoe, who completed his sentence and is a free man today. But he adds that the torture he endured has left a permanent mark on him, "and he'll never be the same." As such, Lane describes the amount of the settlement as "chump change" and "scandalous," especially in comparison with other cases of prison abuse he's handled.
Note that the damages awarded last month to another Lane client, Carolyn O'Neal, for being strapped naked to a restraint chair for hours in Fremont County jail totaled $3.6 million.
Click to read the amended version of Alec Arapahoe v. the United States of America, et al.