WARREN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Victor Valdez was a 52-year old inmate at the Maine State Prison, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was serving time for assault.
Leaders of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition say he was a "sick man", suffering from kidney failure and receiving dialysis. Maine Corrections Commissioner Marty Magnusson agrees, saying prison staff had to take Valdez to the hospital several times, as well as to regular dialysis treatments.
That's about all the two sides agree on.
Valdez died November 27, 2009, at Maine Medical Center, after being taken there from the State Prison in Warren. Inmate advocates claim Valdez had been abused, that his dialysis treatment had been stopped and he was put into solitary confinement in the Special Management Unit (SMU), sometimes referred to as the "super-max".
The group claims that it received multiple letters from other inmates document his mistreatment and eventual death. The Coalition claims the Department of Corrections is to blame, and even alleges the DOC tried to cover up the death by having Valdez's body cremated, with no autopsy.
Those charges are all vehemently denied by Commissioner Magnusson. He says doctors at Maine Medical Center, and previous doctors, found no evidence of physical abuse. Magnusson also says Valdez was provided with proper medical care while in solitary. And he says it was the doctors at who determined there was no need for an autopsy.
As for the cremation, Magnusson says the body was turned over to a funeral director, who contacted Valdez's family. He says the family decided it could not afford to have the body sent home to them and asked for the cremation.
The Maine Attorney General's Office investigated the death. Deputy AG Bill Stokes says he reviewed all the evidence, and concluded Valdez died of natural causes, with no indication of physical abuse at the prison. He says no more information can be released because of privacy laws.
But Prisoner Advocacy Coalition says the AG's report is all part of a state cover-up, and says it will ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.
The group delivered what it called a "people's indictment" of the state to the Governor, Attorney General and Corrections Department, accusing corrections staff of causing Valdez's death.
Corrections Commissioner Magnusson says the Coalition is ignoring the truth, in order to push its own agenda, which he says includes shutting down the SMU and forcing other changes at the prison.
The Coalition was a leader of an unsuccessful effort in the Legislature to impose major restrictions on the state's use of solitary confinement. And Magnusson says he is seeking permission from Valdez's family in the Dominican republic to release all the records of the case.