Whitey Bulger: DOJ Report Outlines Series of Mistakes That Led to Prison Death of Boston Gangster


The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General released a report Wednesday that outlines how a series of mistakes by the embattled Bureau of Prisons led to the beating death of imprisoned Boston mobster and convicted killer James “Whitey” Bulger four years ago.

The report found no criminal wrongdoing by BOP employees. Instead, the report said there were “serious job performance and management failures at multiple levels” in the agency and found “confusing and inadequate BOP policies.”

Bulger was killed less than 12 hours after being transferred to the US prison in Hazelton, West Virginia, from another facility, according to the report. He served two life sentences for numerous crimes related to his reign over the South Boston criminal empire the Winter Hill Gang, including the murders of 11 people.

Bulger had been placed in the general prison population, giving the inmates easy access to him. There, the gangster, known for his ruthless violence, was beaten by several men, one of whom was allegedly a hit man from Massachusetts.

The Ministry of Justice has charged three prisoners in connection with Bulger’s murder. They are charged with several felonies, including first-degree murder of a federal prisoner serving a life sentence and making false statements to a federal agent. They have pleaded not guilty.

The inspector general’s office began its investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bulger’s death after union leaders and corrections officers questioned the decision to transfer Bulger to the notoriously violent Hazelton facility, as well as the choice to place him in the general population.

Critics have pointed specifically to the fact that Bulger – who was 89 and in a wheelchair when he was killed – had his medical care reduced before being transferred to Hazelton, despite earlier requests to transfer Bulger to a more intensive medical facility.

Bulger’s family sued prison officials after his death, alleging that prison guards and other correctional officers were “willfully or knowingly indifferent” to the danger Bulger faced in prison and that it appeared that Bulger was “deliberately sent to his death .” A judge dismissed the case in January.

Based on their investigation, the Office of the Inspector General suggested the BOP make several policy changes, including proposals to make medical paperwork consistent, change guidelines for refusing medical care, streamline which employees are made aware of inmate transfers, reevaluate which gangs are recognized by the BOP and create specific procedures for unit tasks within facilities.

A BOP spokesman said in a statement to CNN that the agency has “initiated several improvements to its medical transfer system” since Bulger’s death, including improved communication between employees involved in the process and more training for staff.

“The BOP appreciates the important work of the OIG and will work closely with the office on future actions and implementation efforts,” the statement said.

According to the report, Bulger dealt with serious medical issues in the years leading up to his death. Bulger was classified as what is called a “medical treatment level 3,” according to the report, meaning he regularly sought treatment for a heart condition.

In 2018, Bulger allegedly threatened a nurse treating another patient at the facility, saying the nurse “gave me a heart attack from yelling at me.” As a result of the threat, Bulger was moved to a special housing unit (SHU) and kept from other inmates as BOP staff attempted to transfer him to another facility.

It took the BOP eight months to complete a transfer, according to the report. Officials initially tried to move Bulger to another “Level 3” facility, but were unable to. Because the facility was desperate to relieve him, the report says, people at the facility who were not privy to Bulger’s medical history used loopholes in their classification guidelines to downgrade Bulger’s medical treatment level to “Level 2,” noting that he had refused some treatments for his heart disease.

Bulger also appeared to suffer mental health problems from the eight months of solitary confinement, according to the report. At one point during his solitary confinement, Bulger told officials he “had lost the will to live,” according to the report. The report does not indicate whether Bulger received any treatment for his declining mental health.

For weeks before his arrival, rumors swirled about Bulger’s move to Hazelton.

According to the OIG report, “well over 100 BOP officials” were made aware that Bulger was being sent to Hazelton, including employees at the facility who “talked openly about Bulger’s upcoming arrival in the presence of Hazelton’s inmates.”

Inmates’ prior knowledge of his arrival, the report says, dramatically increased the likelihood that Bulger faced imminent harm at Hazelton. Recorded phone calls and emails at the time included in the report show how inmates were prepared for what might happen when Bulger arrived.

An inmate interviewed by the OIG said that because other inmates had a “beef” with Bulger and because he was considered a “rat” for working with the FBI, “both the inmates and the staff were speculating — and the inmates were betting money on – how long Bulger would remain alive at Hazelton.

At the time of Bulger’s arrival, the manager of one of Hazelton’s housing units specifically requested that Bulger be assigned to his unit, the report states. The manager recognized Bulger from the FBI’s Most Wanted List, he told the OIG, and claimed to believe his staff was best suited to deal with Bulger.

The manager chose where Bulger would be based on several factors, he told the OIG, including his racial background, medical needs and gang affiliation. The manager claimed that he was not a “gang expert”, was unaware that Bulger had “rivals” in the unit he was assigned to.

The manager’s request was approved, the report said, and did not require any “higher level” approval, such as from the Warden.

Bulger arrived at Hazelton on Oct. 29, 2018, according to the report, and went through a normal intake procedure. According to his pre-screening forms and interviews with prison officials, Bulger claimed he had no conflicts with other gangs or groups and said he had never assisted law enforcement — both of which were untrue.

Bulger told officials that, according to the OIG report, he was a member of the Winter Hill gang, but BOP guidelines did not officially recognize the Winter Hill gang, one of the most notorious mobs in the Boston area, as an organized gang and no additional considerations were made by prison officials to protect Bulger.

Officials told the OIG that Bulger was “really eager” to enter the general population and stated during his intake screening that “I got two life sentences. I want the yard.” When Bulger was photographed during his intake, according to the report, he told an official “who knows, this could be my last picture.”

“Nine times out of ten, if the inmate does not request [protective custody]we don’t usually get them to take it,” a Hazelton employee told the OIG.

At least one employee nudged Bulger, asking the violent mobster and notorious sneak why he didn’t want additional protection.

“You sure do [sic] wanna go to the yard, man?… I saw the movie,” the employee asked Bulger, who appeared to be referring to either “The Departed” or “Black Mass,” both of which feature fictional depictions of Bulger and his rule over Winter Hill Gang.

The employee said Bulger replied, “Don’t believe everything you see.”

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