Utah to pay $450K to the widow of an inmate killed in prison, settling a lawsuit

(Photo courtesy of the Utah State Prison) Jeffrey Ray Vigil

State officials have agreed to pay nearly half a million dollars to the widow of an inmate who was beaten and stabbed to death at the Utah State Prison in 2016.

A lawsuit filed in federal court claims corrections officers knew it would be dangerous to move 24-year-old Jeffrey Ray Vigil to a unit where rival gang members were housed — but placed Vigil there anyway on March 14, 2016.

Just hours after he was moved to the Oquirrh 1, Section 2 housing unit, the Ogden Trece gang member was stabbed and stomped for eight minutes. Those accused of the crime are members of another Ogden gang, Titanic Crip Society.

Vigil was taken to a local hospital, where he died the next day.

Months after the attack, his wife, Chelsie Vigil, filed a federal lawsuit claiming the Utah Department of Corrections violated her husband’s constitutional rights by failing to keep him safe. The original filing sought $20 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount of money in punitive damages.

Earlier this month, attorneys asked a judge to dismiss the case, saying they had reached a settlement.

Prison officials initially said settlement terms were private, but the Utah attorney general’s office on Thursday released a document in response to a public records request showing the state agreed to pay $450,000 to Vigil’s widow.

Settlement documents show that state officials did not admit liability or wrongdoing in paying the sum, but did so to “avoid the expense and burdens of litigation.”

Two men are facing charges in connection to Jeffrey Vigil’s death. Ramon Luis Rivera, 32, is charged with first-degree felony aggravated murder and other crimes, while 40-year-old Albert Collin Fernandez faces murder and obstruction of justice charges for his alleged role in the fatal beating.

Prison surveillance footage played during Rivera’s preliminary hearing shows an inmate who authorities say is Rivera repeatedly stabbing Vigil by a flight of stairs. The footage then shows the two walk to the middle of the common area, where the fight resumes with Rivera kicking and stomping Vigil more than 70 times. Fernandez is accused of punching and kicking Vigil and later blocking the victim’s escape as he was being stabbed.

Rivera later told police he had instructed Vigil to get himself relocated before the fight.

“ ‘You either leave or you’re going to die,’ Either that or he’s going to kill me,” Rivera said in a recorded interview. “One of us is going to die.”

Rivera’s and Fernandez’s criminal cases are still pending.

Tribune reporter Paighten Harkins contributed to this story.