A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by family members of Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger Jr., who was beaten to death in a federal prison in West Virginia.
U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey in Wheeling granted the government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, ruling that federal law precludes the family’s ability to sue over the Federal Bureau of Prison’s decision to transfer Bulger to the prison at Hazelton.
The family accused the bureau and 30 unnamed employees of the prison system of failing to protect Bulger by moving him to a prison with constant inmate violence. Bulger, 89, was killed at the prison in October 2018 on the same day he was transferred there from another prison.
“Through its frequent legislation in the areas of prison housing and prisoner litigation, Congress had many opportunities to create a damages remedy for situations where a housing decision leads to injury. But it did not do so,” Bailey wrote last week. “Instead, it has repeatedly limited judicial authority to review BOP housing decisions and to entertain claims brought by prisoners.”
The family had alleged the prison system was aware Bulger was labeled a “snitch,” and that he was perhaps the most well-known inmate to be incarcerated since Al Capone, but did not do enough to shield him from the other inmates.
Bulger was the leader of the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American organized crime operation that ran loan-sharking, gambling and drug rackets in South Boston. He was also an FBI informant who snitched on the New England mob, his gang’s main rival, in an era when bringing down the Mafia was a top national priority for the FBI.
He became one of the nation’s most-wanted fugitives after fleeing Boston in late 1994. After more than 16 years on the run, Bulger was captured at age 81 in Santa Monica, California. He was later convicted in 2013 of participating in 11 murders and other crimes.
Bulger was moved to the West Virginia prison after being initially housed in Florida and in Tucson, Arizona, two prisons known for protecting inmates who may be at risk because of their crimes, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in 2020.
“Predictably, within hours of his placement in general population at Hazelton, inmates believed to be from New England and who are alleged to have Mafia ties or loyalties, killed James Bulger Jr. utilizing methods that included the use of a lock in a sock-type weapon,” the lawsuit said.