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Family sues Maryland over 2016 inmate slaying

The family of an incarcerated man who was beaten to death by his cellmate in a western Maryland prison filed a civil rights lawsuit last month alleging prison officials and correctional officers failed to protect him.

Benjamin Hall died Oct. 10, 2016, after being assaulted by Mark Andrew Topper at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown. Topper pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a 30-year sentence last year.

Hall’s family filed suit in Washington County Circuit Court on Sept. 17, but the lawsuit was removed to federal court Tuesday by the state. The plaintiffs are represented by Robin R. Cockey and Ashley Ann Bosche of Cockey, Brennan and Maloney P.C. in Salisbury. They were not available for comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants “showed a deliberate indifference to (Hall’s) safety in the weeks leading to his death” and “ignored complaints from (Hall) and his mother about his safety and failed to follow written directives and procedures, all of which created hazardous and unconstitutional conditions.”

Hall was sentenced to 10 years in prison for theft in 2013, according to the complaint. Shortly after his incarceration, initially on the Eastern Shore, he was attacked by another inmate and joined a neo-Nazi prison gang who offered him protection, the complaint said. Hall is white and the attacker is believed to have been black.

Hall was transferred to another facility, then to Hagerstown, where an inmate who was a member of a rival gang was fatally stabbed in early 2016, according to the complaint. Hall was “placed on administrative segregation” due to concerns for his safety because of the rivalry between the gangs, and in August 2016 he was attacked by members of the other gang.

The lawsuit alleges correctional officers saw the attack happen and knew Hall was in the presence of members of the rival gang at the time despite a determination by prison officials that there should be no contact between the gangs. Prior to his death, Hall allegedly told his mother and friend that Topper had been placed in his cell to kill him as an ordered “hit” by his own gang because they thought he was cooperating in the investigation of the earlier stabbing death.

On the night of the attack, Topper claims he and Hall were drinking in their cell, got into an argument and Hall punched Topper in the face, after which Topper said he went “berserk” and beat Hall to death, according to the complaint.

Beginning with the August attack, the lawsuit claims, the defendants “created a dangerous situation” by continuing to allow Hall to have contact with members of the rival gang and then failed to protect him during the attack. On the night of Hall’s death, the prison either allowed or overlooked the cellmates drinking alcohol and failed to notice the altercation until it was over, according to the complaint.

“The noises inevitably involved in (Hall’s) struggle to survive should have alerted authorities to act,” the complaint concludes. “Had officials responded after hearing the argument or seeing suspicious movement, they could have prevented (Hall’s) death.”

The lawsuit alleges federal civil rights violations, violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, wrongful death and survival action.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General declined to comment on pending litigation Wednesday.

The case is Loretta Lynn Hall et al. v. State of Maryland et al., 1:19-cv-03005.

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