A preventable horror in a Washington prison

State v. West, No. 31517-7-III (Wash. Ct. App. Jan. 29, 2015).

Detail from Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Detail from Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Michael West was convicted of rape and sent to prison. There he became psychotic. He talked about Christ’s second coming, claimed to be a prophet and one of the kings of the twelve tribes of Israel, and boasted that God had paid Barack Obama millions of dollars to arrive in a limousine and spring him from prison. The Department of Corrections put West on meds, but in September 2010 he announced that he would no longer take them. 

Twelve days after West stopped taking his meds, he was put in a cell with two other inmates. After telling one of them, Chad Bolstad, to worship him like a God, he smashed Bolstad’s head into the floor, strangled him, and gouged out his eyeballs with his bare hands. He then turned to his other cellmate, who screamed for help. As West began to strangle him, prison guards showed up and took control of West, who was raving about God and Satan. Chad Bolstad survived, but he was permanently blinded by West’s attack. 

The question before the Washington Court of Appeals is whether West’s defense counsel provided him ineffective assistance by failing to ask the court to acquit him by reason of insanity and by failing to object to certain expert testimony. The court of appeals decides that any errors by defense counsel did not prejudice West, and so he cannot invoke ineffective assistance of counsel to overturn his conviction. 

The most disturbing aspect of this extraordinarily disturbing case, however, is the DOC’s decision to put West in a cell with two other inmates after he had announced that he would no longer take his antipsychotic medications. Like the case from Arizona earlier this week, this case shows a prison system that seems to ignore the safety of those in its custody.

[Credit to Harry Williams IV for alerting me to this case.]