Lawyer: Slain inmate sought gang protection

PORTLAND — A white Oregon inmate found dead in his cell sought the protection of black gang leaders after he was threatened by the Aryan Brotherhood gang, according to the inmate’s attorney.

Eight days after Michael Hagen was found dead in his cell, his attorney Dennis Steinman received a letter from a black gang leader who apologized for failing to stand up for Hagen, The Oregonian reported Saturday.

The gang leader wrote that he couldn’t protect Hagen because Hagen was white and doing so would put the gang leader in danger, the newspaper said.

Steinman didn’t provide the gang leader’s name because he is not the lawyer’s client.

Hagen’s widow, Tiffany Hagen, has sued the prison system, claiming negligence caused his death.

The lawsuit says Hagen told prison administrators he feared for his life after he refused to join the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang. Members concluded he was either an informant or someone who wouldn’t fight back.

Inmate Terry Lapich has been accused of beating Hagen to death in 2012. He told prison guards that Hagen fell off his bed.

No prison employees have been disciplined in connection with the death. Each side in the lawsuit has requested a jury trial.

In an Aug. 22 legal filing, the state said it violated its own policies when it moved Hagen into a cell with an inmate who had promised to hurt him.

However, it denies claims in the suit that violence is prevalent at Oregon prisons, and that its policies, training and discipline structure are inadequate to protect inmates.

Hagen was sent to Snake River Correctional Institution for 17 years in 2010 after robbing a Portland check-cashing store and severely beating a clerk.

After he refused to join the gang, prison officials determined he was under a legitimate threat and instructed staff not to return him to the prison’s general population.

For reasons that remain a mystery, Hagen was instead returned to that population Feb. 2, 2012, in a cell with Lapich, records indicate.

Hagen was found beaten and bleeding hours later. He died a day later at a Boise, Idaho, hospital.

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