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Nevada prisoner’s mom claims in lawsuit that staff covered up son’s fatal beating

A lawsuit filed this week against the Nevada Department of Corrections is questioning how a prisoner died last year after officers twice used force against him, including striking him with batons.

The family of 44-year-old Christian Walker said Walker was badly beaten and later found unresponsive in his cell at a prison located near Las Vegas. A copy of a redacted autopsy report obtained by the Review-Journal showed that investigators noted evidence of blunt force trauma to his head, neck, torso, shoulder and legs, including multiple cuts and contusions on his face, and multiple contusions on his extremities and sides.

Graphic photographs included with Thursday’s lawsuit showed Walker’s bruised body, including two black eyes.

However, examiners with the Clark County coroner’s office wrote that Walker’s injuries “are not considered fatal and do not contribute to the cause of death.” Walker’s death was ruled natural due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease. The autopsy report did not show any “positive findings of toxicological significance.”

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by attorney James Urrutia on behalf of Walker’s family claims his death is being “swept under the rug.” Allegations in the suit include that Walker was assaulted, and that prison employees were negligent and used excessive force against Walker.

The Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Walker was serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 28 years for the 1997 killing of his 17-year-old girlfriend, Sunset High School student Maureen McConaha, the Review-Journal has previously reported.

He had been held in the Southern Desert Correctional Center since 1999, but was moved to High Desert State Prison three days before he died, investigators wrote in the autopsy report. On April 11, corrections officers used pepper spray on Walker, “taking him to the ground,” after Walker “failed to obey commands to return to his cell and began to run from corrections officers,” according to the report.

According to the lawsuit, Walker had been experiencing “extreme paranoia, headaches, loss of train of thought, and several other symptoms” earlier that month. He had reported to medical staff at the prison that he believed he was being poisoned. The lawsuit said Walker was taken to High Desert State Prison “for unknown reasons.”

On April 13, Walker was taken to University Medical Center after corrections officers used force against him and struck him with batons in another incident, according to the lawsuit and the autopsy report.

The lawsuit included records in which medical officials wrote that Walker “refused to explain how he suffered multiple traumatic injuries to his head, face, chest and extremities,” the lawsuit said. Walker said he had blurry vision from being pepper sprayed, but denied having chest pain, shortness or breath or confusion.

The medical officials also wrote that a corrections officer reported that another officer struck Walker with a baton in the back of Walker’s head, chest, arms and legs, according to the lawsuit.

According to Walker’s autopsy report, Walker had refused to get into restraints and got into a “fighting stance” before corrections officers sprayed him with pepper spray and hit him with batons. He was treated for stitches to the back of his head at the hospital, before he was taken back to the prison.

On April 15, Walker was found unresponsive in his cell, with his upper torso underneath his bed, according to the autopsy report. According to the lawsuit, Walker was found nude, lying in the fetal position in a pool of blood.

Walker’s mother, Annette Walker, gathered with members of the prisoner advocacy group Return Strong outside the Regional Justice Center on Friday. After speaking with reporters, the group said they planned to deliver a petition to Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, requesting a fact-finding investigation into Walker’s death.

“There will be an investigation,” Annette Walker said. “If I have to stand in this corner every day and start screaming, I will.”

Wolfson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Walker and other members of the group wore shirts reading “Ask me how Christian Walker died.” The group alleged that Walker’s death reflects the overall brutality faced by inmates inside Nevada’s prisons.

Annette Walker said she believes her son was killed in the prison.

“Today I am not seeking vengeance, but I do want to seek answers,” Annette Walker told reporters. “… Christian’s death raises serious questions about the treatment of inmates.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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