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Ex-prison guard gets 3 years for failing to help incarcerated person who later died

Shaban Athuman
VPM News File
The Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Merhige, Jr. U.S. Courthouse is seen on Tuesday, October 3, 2023 in Richmond, Virginia.

Michael Anderson, 52, was a lieutenant at the Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison in Petersburg.

A former high-ranking guard at a federal prison in Petersburg has been sentenced to three years in prison for failing to help an incarcerated person who suffered a medical emergency and later died, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Michael Anderson, 52, was a lieutenant at the Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison. He was the second-highest ranking officer there during several hours when the incarcerated person's health crisis took place in 2021.

The incarcerated person, identified only as W.W., exhibited sudden symptoms that included incoherence and the inability to stand, according to court filings by federal prosecutors. He continuously fell inside his cell and later in a suicide-watch cell.

He later fell headfirst into a doorframe, according to prosecutors.

“As W.W. laid alone on the floor, naked and covered in bruises and abrasions, no correctional officer responded to his medical emergency or otherwise rendered aid to W.W. for nearly an hour and forty minutes,” prosecutors wrote.

W.W. died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to prosecutors. A medical examiner said he would have lived if he had “been hospitalized and examined at any point in his ordeal.”

The man's cellmate, correctional officers and suicide watch observers had notified prison supervisors and asked for help, prosecutors wrote. They said Anderson was one of the supervisors who failed to act.

Anderson pleaded guilty in July to one count of deprivation of civil rights. Prosecutors asked for a sentence of nearly five years to nearly six years in prison, which fell within the guideline range.

Anderson's attorney, Jessica Richardson, wrote in a court filing that Anderson clearly failed to act, but the man's death “was a collaborative failure on the part of multiple staff members.”

She noted Anderson's stellar record and lack of any disciplinary issues over many years.

"This is a man that made a huge mistake, with devastating consequences, one that he has taken accountability and responsibility for,” Richardson wrote.