OGDEN -- A wrongful death lawsuit will be filed against the Utah State Prison for an Ogden inmate found dead in her cell Sept. 21.
The deceased, Priscilla Chavez, 29, was a troubled inmate with a long record of convictions on charges of fighting with police officers.
"Given she was in the prison hospital for a seizure immediately before her death, and knowing her history, common sense would say you need to keep an eye on her," said lawyer Randy Phillips, who has already filed a notice of claim with the prison, precursor to a lawsuit.
Chavez had been in and out of mental institutions and jail since she was 14, according to family members and court records.
In 2001 she was raped by a prison guard, who was fired and sent to prison himself for the offense in 2003.
In 2010 Chavez was awarded $1.4 million in damages by a federal court judge against the guard, Louis Poleate, for the rape. The decision came just days after she was sent to prison again from the Ogden courts on a long list of charges where the 5-foot-4-inch Chavez was again involved in assaults against police officers dating back to 2007 as well as one case of assault of a mental health worker.
The state prison settled its part of the federal lawsuit out of court for an undisclosed amount. News reports in other media put the amount at $25,000, a standard nuisance settlement.
To date, nothing has been collected from Poleate, said Phillips, who also filed that lawsuit. Poleate lives somewhere in Milwaukee currently, he said, with low-income jobs and is listed on sex offender registries. Phillips said he still hopes to find some kind of seizable asset of Poleate's to settle the judgment.
Phillips said he hand-delivered a request to the prison Wednesday for all records, videotape and other materials relevant to Chavez's case.
"This is a horrible and tragic event that should never happen to anyone," Phillips said. "No family should be forced to endure what has happened to Priscilla."
In accordance with prison policy, Chavez's death is under investigation by an outside agency, in this case Salt Lake's Unified Police Department.
The state Department of Corrections has not yet received any formal notification paperwork regarding the lawsuit, prison spokesman Steve Gehrke said Thursday.
"Additionally, the department does not comment on pending litigation in any circumstances," he said.
Eight cases of assault of a police officer in 1999 first sent Chavez to prison when she was 16, according to court records.
Family members say Chavez's mental problems began when she was sexually abused as a child, leading to jags of talking to herself non-stop when she was 11 years old.
She had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor, according to her mother, Irene Chavez, of North Ogden.
In addition to a trip to the prison infirmary the night she died, the mother said she was told her daughter had been admitted to the University of Utah Medical Center for unspecified reasons earlier this month.