With the filing of two new lawsuits in New Mexico this week, Dr. Mark E. Walden stands accused of sexually assaulting scores of prisoners while working for inmate healthcare contractor Corizon Health Services inside two different GEO Group for-profit prisons in the state.
Filed on February 13th and 16th, the lawsuits are the sixth and seventh to be brought against Dr. Walden in the past three years, and raise the total number of Walden’s alleged victims to around 50.
Walden is accused of fondling prisoners’ genitals and conducting superfluous, aggressive rectal exams for ailments like tooth aches and toe fungus. Walden has denied any and all wrongdoing, and Corizon and GEO Group have so far refused to speak with the press on these matters.
The two most recent lawsuits represent a total of seven inmates, and name Walden, Corizon, GEO Group and New Mexico prison and healthcare officials as defendants. Plaintiffs have filed under their initials to avoid harassment and retaliation.
According to one lawsuit, Walden used a screen to keep other staff from looking in and seeing what he was doing. A plaintiff known only as “S.W.” claims he was digitally penetrated by Walden on three separate occasions. When S.W. asked why Walden was conducting these exams, the doctor responded that he was “milking his prostate” and made other nonsensical medical claims.
Prior to the lawsuits and his employment with Corizon, Walden faced a “corrective action” and was terminated by the Union County General Hospital for failing to report incomplete medical records. After his professional liability insurance was cancelled, he provided incorrect information to the medical board upon renewing his license in 2011.
From about 2010 and 2012, Walden assaulted inmates while employed by Corizon at the private GEO Group-operated Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility in Clayton, New Mexico. In September of 2011, a prisoner filed one of the first complaints against Walden’s conduct.
GEO Group and Corizon responded to the report not by disciplining, retraining or firing Walden, but by moving him to a different GEO Group / Corizon prison in the state, the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility, where he went on to sexually assault more than a dozen other inmates.
In late 2012/early 2013, Walden left Corizon to work at a general practice in Raton. Around the same time, the US Department of Justice quietly began a civil rights investigation into his misconduct. By February 2013, the New Mexico Board of Health had issued a “notice of contemplative action” against Walden’s medical license.
The next month, Walden faced his first round of lawsuits from a group of over 30 current and former inmates. Specifically, Walden faced three separate civil lawsuits (which were later consolidated in US District Court) alleging “negligent hiring and retention, civil rights violations, negligence and breach of contract.” Attorney Katie Curry, who is representing one group of abused inmates in the first round of lawsuits, said there were at least 25 known victims, telling reporters, “That’s who has come forward, but these guys move around a lot (to other prisons) […] I can imagine there are others who are reluctant to come forward.”
Prisoners claimed they stopped going to clinic even if they needed medical attention because they didn’t want to see Walden. The lawsuits accuse the doctor of not only sexually assaulting inmates with fondling and unnecessary rectal exams, but also violating basic hygiene and disease prevention protocol by not wearing gloves when he did so. One prisoner visiting Walden for hemorrhoid cream was “penetrated by the doctor’s ‘entire ungloved fist.’ The inmate, who reported the incidents to prison officials, continues to have nightmares and anxiety related to the alleged assault.”
GEO Group and Corizon are accused of either knowing about his behavior from incident reports “or [keeping] themselves willfully blind” to it. Prison staff apparently noticed the drastic increase in rectal examinations being performed by his office, particularly involving younger inmates in their 20’s and 30’s, but appear to have been unwilling to or discouraged from reporting the abuse.
Despite the numerous complaints against him, prison administrators never bothered to place a third person in the room to safeguard prisoners’ basic rights and dignity. GEO and Corizon made no indication of disciplinary action that would be taken against him, either. He was simply transferred to another prison, where he would be responsible for inmates who were wholly unaware of his past. One of the lawsuits claimed this decision “ultimately encouraged his misconduct.”
By the time Walden was being sued, he was no longer working at Corizon. The reason for his termination — whether or not it was willful, or had anything to do with the allegations made against him — is unknown. But whatever happened was obviously not serious enough to stop Walden from finding work at a private general practice.
Five months after the first lawsuits landed, in July 2013, the New Mexico Board of Medicine suspended Walden’s license. He filed for bankruptcy. Upon reviewing evidence for the medical board investigation, one urologist agreed there were several instances of “sexual contact with a patient” by Walden that “were not legitimate medical procedures and constituted sexual abuse.” A separate physician reviewing the case “questioned the credibility of the inmates’ statements ‘because several of them indicated (Walden) had examined them without gloves, which (he) found very unlikely to have actually occurred.'”
By the end of August, the DOJ made public their investigation into Walden’s potential civil rights violations. That investigation appears to be ongoing.
Walden was then hit with two more lawsuits in the beginning of 2014, covering 10 inmates making similar claims of abuse and molestation. One prisoner, who underwent a separate medical evaluation after complaining about an aggressive session with Walden, reported doctors found two “anal tears.”
The conduct and conditions outlined in each lawsuit falls well in-line with other reports of gross rights violations perpetrated by private prison operators like Corizon and GEO Group. For years, advocates have warned against their practices of hiring less-qualified corrections officers and medical staff so they could pay them less and cut costs — practices that lend themselves to serious abuse.
Perhaps nowhere is this practice of “negligent hiring and retention” more devastating to inmates than in prison healthcare, where there are multiple and unique circumstances that contribute to an elevated potential for abuse. According to the lawsuits, “Inmates often view reporting abuse as futile because of the humiliation and retaliation they risk and the prospect of losing access to medical services […]. Doctors have far greater social status than inmates, further exacerbating the imbalance, they say.” This is rape culture behind bars and it enables prison security and medical staff to routinely violate prisoners’ rights with impunity.
As extreme as this story is, it’s not an isolated case of Corizon or GEO Group employee misconduct in the slightest— which makes it all the more incredible that neither company seems at any risk of losing their contracts or being punished by New Mexico’s lawmakers and leaders.