Family of murdered Monroe inmate files federal lawsuit

MONROE — The family of a man killed at the Monroe Correctional Complex last year has filed a federal lawsuit alleging officers at the prison failed to protect him from a fellow inmate spiraling out of control.

Under federal rules, the complaint does not name the state Department of Corrections as a defendant. Instead, it lists nine corrections officers. They, in turn, are expected to forward the case to prison officials who will refer it to the state Attorney General.

Both the victim and the inmate accused of killing him had mental health issues that led to their placement in the Special Offenders Unit at Monroe.

Benjamin Cory Price, 35, is charged with aggravated first-degree murder in a Snohomish County Superior Court criminal case. He is accused of stomping to death Gordon “Casey” Powell. The Centralia man, 45, died from brain injuries. Powell was described in court papers as “the smallest and frailest” offender in the unit. The May 2015 attack was caught on the prison’s video surveillance system.

Price allegedly confessed to the slaying, saying he’d been training as a government assassin since the age of 4. He called Powell a “Satan buddy.” He also said Powell used telepathy to tell him that if he assaulted him, Price finally would get to talk to police and a lawyer.

The criminal case is in limbo. For now, mental health experts have determined Price is incompetent to stand trial. He remains at the prison while awaiting a bed for treatment at Western State Hospital.

Attorneys representing Powell’s family said they moved forward with the civil lawsuit now because there is no way of knowing when and if Price will be deemed competent to stand trial.

“We believe he was violently psychotic,” attorney Edwin Budge said.

The lawsuit alleges corrections officers were afraid of Price and were “deliberately indifferent” in not protecting Powell. Allowing him to be attacked amounted to cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Bill of Rights, the civil lawsuit alleges.

On the day of the attack, Price was “clearly exhibiting … aggressive, delusional and dangerous behavior” yet “no action was taken to segregate Price or otherwise protect other offenders from him,” according to the lawsuit.

That day, one corrections officer noted that Price appeared “off his baseline” and alerted fellow officers. Similar concerns also were noted in a prison log book, according to court papers.

Powell was exposed to “a substantial risk of serious harm” by being exposed “to an unstable homicidal maniac with a history of killing and a present desire to kill without reason, provocation or justifications.”

Price is serving a 12-year sentence for another killing. He strangled his girlfriend, Dawn Ruger, in 2006 and hid her body in rural Whatcom County. Two years later he confessed to the killing and led police to her body. Price claimed Ruger was putting demons in his head. He was charged with second-degree murder in Skagit County and eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter after a lengthy stay at Western State Hospital.

Price also made delusional claims in 2011 after attempting to strangle his cellmate at Stafford Creek Correctional Center in Grays Harbor County. He said he had a dream convincing him that his new cellmate was the devil.

Price has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder.

Powell was serving time for second-degree burglary. He had broken a window at a store and taken some liquor.

Officials from the state Department of Corrections referred questions about the lawsuit to the state Attorney General’s Office, which could not be reached for comment.

The 14-page complaint, which was filed Tuesday, does not specify a dollar figure being sought in damages.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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