CHARLESTON – The estate of former Southern Regional Jail inmate has sued the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, saying the man was beaten to death by three other inmates less than 24 hours after he was jailed earlier this year.
Richard Whittaker, the administrator of the estate of Kevin Brent Whittaker, filed his lawsuit Dec. 13 in Kanawha Circuit Court. In addition to the DOC, unnamed employees are listed as defendants. Richard Whittaker is Kevin Brent Whittaker’s father.
“This is yet another occurrence of raging incompetence and utter disregard for the health, welfare, and safety of inmates by the correctional officers in our Regional Jail System,” Dante diTrapano of the Charleston law firm of Calwell Luce diTrapano told The West Virginia Record. “Kevin Whittaker was incarcerated for less than 24 hours before needlessly dying in his cell. The officers’ conduct toward Kevin was outrageous, malicious and reprehensible.”
According to the complaint, Kevin Brent Whittaker was incarcerated at Southern Regional Jail in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, 2019, and placed in the general population. He had been arrested for driving on a suspended license.
At 8:36 p.m. that same day, three inmates entered Whittaker’s cell and “savagely beat him.” The complaint says Whittaker activated the panic button in his cell, which is meant to alert officials of threats, emergency situations or medical distress.
“Correctional officers are required to timely respond to distress calls originating in cells so as to address the emergency security or medical situation,” the complaint states. “Correctional officers on duty on February 16, 2019, either failed or refused to take action by responding to the distress call from Mr. Whittaker’s cell.
“Instead, the defendant WVDCR correctional officers on duty on February 16, 2019, callously ignored Mr. Whittaker’s distress call, leaving him to lie there dying of his significant bodily injuries for over an hour. … (They) failed to render aid or to acknowledge Mr. Whittaker until one hour and forty minutes later at approximately 10:16 p.m.”
Whittaker was transported to Beckley Appalachian Regional Health’s ER by EMS. He arrived at 11 p.m. without a pulse.
The complaint accuses all defendants of malicious conduct and violation of clearly established laws.
Richard Whittaker seeks compensatory damages from the Division of Corrections in an amount not to exceed the applicable insurance policy as well as other compensatory and punitive damages from the other defendants. He also seeks to have him and other beneficiaries and dependents be compensated up to the Division of Corrections’ applicable insurance coverage for their sorrow, emotional suffering, loss of financial and emotional support, loss of society and companionship and other losses.
He also seeks compensatory damages for his son’s pain and suffering prior to his death, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney fees, court costs, expenses and other relief.
The lawsuit comes just a week after the Division of Corrections faced heat because of a Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety training class photo shows the cadets and others giving a Nazi salute. Three people have been fired and several others have been suspended without pay pending an investigation.
In addition to diTrapano, Whittaker is being represented by Alexander D. McLaughlin and Benjamin D. Adams also of Calwell Luce diTrapano as well as William C. Forbes and W. Jesse Forbes of Forbes Law Offices in Charleston. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Carrie Webster.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 19-C-1220