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Federal suit alleges prison failed to protect inmate from cellmate attack

The daughter of a Hagerstown man who was killed by his cellmate just days before his conviction was overturned has filed suit against the state, alleging prison officials did not sufficiently protect her father.

Roger Lee Largent died Feb. 17, 2017, at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, according to the complaint, filed by his adult daughter Loretta Kline. The lawsuit was filed in Allegany County Circuit Court last month but was removed to federal court by the defendants on Wednesday.

Largent was serving an 18-year sentence for rape. His case was on appeal at the time of his death. The Court of Special Appeals threw out his conviction four days after he died and ordered a new trial.

Largent, who was transferred to WCI in 2016 after his conviction, was placed in segregation because he reported fears for his life, according to the lawsuit. He reported that five inmates threatened him in late 2016 and he requested placement in protective custody and refused to move to general population.

In December 2016, Largent was placed in segregation with Donte Antonio Frye, according to the lawsuit, who, the suit said, “had a history of assaulting cellmates.” The two were locked in their cell for 23 hours each day and had repeated disputes with each other, which were reported to corrections officers.

On Feb. 11, 2017, a corrections officer looked into Largent and Frye’s cell and observed Largent on the floor with bruising on his face, a pillowcase around his neck and blood on the floor, according to the lawsuit. Frye was immediately removed from the cell and reportedly said, “The devil made me do it.”

Largent was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the suit, which added that the following day Frye was interviewed and said that he “blacked out” and that the next thing he remembered was Largent dead on the floor. Frye pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2018.

Anton L. Iamele, who represents Kline, said his client has been looking for answers from the state and the facility about her father’s death, including filing her own Maryland Public Information Act request.

“She’s been pushing this for a long time and even before she and I sat down and had occasion to meet, she was really trying to dig into this,” said Iamele, of Iamele & Iamele LLP in Baltimore.

The complaint names the state, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the former WCI warden, Richard J. Graham Jr. Kline seeks damages for wrongful death and violation of Largent’s federal constitutional rights.

The state and its agents had a duty to supervise and monitor inmates, ensure their safety, deescalate conflicts, screen and evaluate inmates for potential future violence, segregate inmates with a history of assault, and intervene in situations such as the dispute between Largent and Frye, according to the lawsuit.

“Hopefully we can bring to light the fact that both of these guys… wanted to be put in a different situation and it is my understanding (that) both of them made reports or complaints to corrections officers indicating that they could not get along and it was an untenable situation,” Iamele said. “It ends in this tragedy.”

Kline is also represented by David J. Hare of Kazary, Hare & Walsh PC in Cumberland.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, which represents the state defendants, declined to comment.

The case is Loretta Kline v. State of Maryland et al., 1:20-cv-00722.

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