An inmate at a prison in northern Michigan was murdered by his cellmate because he was gay, after staffers ignored both men’s repeatedly requested to house them separately.
Rodriguez Montez Burks, a 23-year-old prisoner at the Alger County Correctional Facility, was was killed on July 20, just nine months before he was eligible for parole. Other inmates say Burks’ cellmate, whose name has not been released, had threatened to hurt him if he wasn’t moved to a different bunk.
“Old boy was like, ’Hey I am not gonna be locked in here with a fag,'” inmate Todd Wentworth told Metro Times. “And the guard was like, ’It’s not our problem.'”
According to Wentworth, the suspect had been transferred from a supermax facility and assigned to Burks’ cell just two days before the murder. He replaced Burks’ former cellmate, who reportedly was also gay.
“This gentleman told [the guard] very clearly, ’Look I’m gonna hurt this guy if you don’t move me out this cell,'” said another inmate. “Burks told [another staffer], ’I can’t lock with this guy; we’re having issues, we can’t do this.'”
According to a UCLA School of Law study, LGBT prisoners are more likely to experience mistreatment and sexual violence, though there are no specific protocols in place to protect them. The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act is supposed to mitigate harm, but it’s up to guards to address individual situations.
Inmates at Alger say at least two staffers refused to do anything about the brewing trouble between Burks and his bunkmate. In addition to asking a guard to separate them, the men appealed to their resident unit manager as she made her rounds the morning of the killing, but she was unsympathetic.
“She was like, ’You’re not here for convenience.’ Basically, we’re not moving you ’cause you wanna move—this ain’t the Holiday Inn,” he says.
That conversation reportedly occurred at 11:30am—ten minutes later Wentworth said he heard shouts from Burks’ cell, and then silence. Burks was pronounced dead around 2 p.m. Though no official cause of death had been released, Wentworth said he saw streaks of blood on the floor and heard medics describing puncture wounds to Burks’ lungs.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said an investigation into Burks’ death is being conducted, adding, “If it [is] determined there was a work rule violated, an officer or any staff member could face repercussions.”
Burks was serving two to 10 years for receiving and concealing a stolen motor vehicle and fleeing police. His bunkmate is serving time for armed robbery, carjacking and assault with intent to murder, according to Gautz.