Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against Bureau of Prisons filed by family of Whitey Bulger

The family claimed Bulger was "deliberately" put in harm's way.

January 19, 2022, 1:24 PM

A federal judge in West Virginia has dismissed a lawsuit by the estate of Whitey Bulger that accused Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials of "deliberately" sending him to his death.

The notorious Boston gangster was brutally killed within hours of his arrival at United States Penitentiary, Hazelton in 2018. He was 89.

The leader of Boston's Winter Hill Gang, Bulger was convicted on numerous racketeering charges and for involvement in 11 murders in 2013. He was serving two life sentences plus five years.

In October 2018, Bulger was transferred to USP Hazelton, which his family's lawsuit described as a "violent," "volatile" and "understaffed" facility with a "gang-run yard" and a long history of inmate-on-inmate assaults.

Upon arrival, Bulger was placed in the general population. The family, including former Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger, alleged that Whitey Bulger was beaten and killed within hours of the transfer by inmates who were "believed" to have been from New England and sympathetic to the Boston Mafia.

Bulger's medical status was lowered in early October to a notch below where it had been prior to his transfers that month, the last of which culminated in his arrival at Hazelton, according to Bureau of Prisons documents obtained by ABC News in 2019.

Booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows James "Whitey" Bulger.
U.S. Marshals Service via AP, FILE

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey said in his Jan. 12 ruling that federal law did not allow the family to sue BOP officials who decided to transfer Bulger because Congress expressly puts custody of inmates in the hands of the BOP. Ruling otherwise "would be in strong tension with Congress's decisions to give the BOP discretion over inmate placement, prohibit courts from reviewing inmate placement, and omit an individual-capacity damages remedy," Bailey's decision said.

"Congress had many opportunities to create a damages remedy for situations where a housing decision leads to injury. But it did not do so. Instead, it has repeatedly limited judicial authority to review BOP housing decisions and to entertain claims brought by prisoners."

The BOP has declined to comment on the lawsuit and has never officially released information about who killed Bulger.

Bulger's family has not yet commented on the decision or on whether it plans to appeal.