WATERVILLE — The Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition might have a hard time getting the federal government to pursue an investigation into the 2009 death of a Maine prisoner, said the former chaplain for the state prison.

The coalition on Wednesday said it intends to ask the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the death of Victor Valdez, a 52-year-old Dominican immigrant, who was in prison following his conviction on a charge of aggravated assault.

Rev. Stan Moody, the former prison chaplain, spoke at Colby College on Wednesday evening about prison reform. He said before his lecture that he’d encourage the coalition to pursue the federal investigation.

“I don’t know how firm a ground they’re on with that case,” said Moody. “Maybe it will work. If it does, that’s good.”

Valdez’s case was one of four suspicious Maine prison deaths in the past five years that Moody mentioned in his talk, titled “Criminal Justice: America’s Hall of Shame.”

Coalition spokeswoman Judy Garvey said the group believes Valdez received “very rough treatment” in prison and was denied medical care. Valdez did not speak English and was physically disabled, she said, which is why the coalition feels federal civil rights officials should get involved.

Denise Lord, associate commissioner of the state Department of Corrections, said Valdez died of natural causes in a hospital and that state officials hoped a recent review by the state Department of the Attorney General would address concerns.

In its decision, the attorney general’s office ruled Valdez died of natural causes “brought on by serious medical conditions from which he suffered.”

Moody said the attorney general’s office didn’t find any evidence backing up the coalition’s claims because Valdez’s body was cremated without an autopsy, which should be performed on everyone who dies in the prison, he said.

There are more blatant examples of death caused by maltreatment in the Maine State Prison, Moody said, including the April 2009 death of Sheldon Weinstein.

Weinstein’s case led Moody to resign his post as prison chaplain and become an advocate for prison reform.

Moody told the Colby audience that Weinstein was a smart, funny man who was in prison for sex offenses. The day he died, Moody said he had visited Weinstein, who recently had been assaulted by other prisoners. He was in a wheelchair and had a black eye. He asked Moody if he could help him get some toilet paper in his cell. He had been using his pillowcase, he said.

The next day, Moody was told Weinstein died of a ruptured spleen.

“Sometimes you come up against something that is so blatant, you can’t walk away,” Moody said. “There are times when things reach out and grab us. For me, that was one of those times.”

Moody said reducing recidivism would be the key to cutting down on prison costs. He said he planned to talk to Gov.-elect Paul LePage about spending more money on re-entry programs that would provide housing, mentoring, job training and drug counseling for released prisoners.

Now a pastor at Meeting House Church in Manchester, Moody last month received the Maine Civil Liberties Union’s Baldwin Award. Moody is also a former state representative.

His lecture was presented by the Colby’s Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights.

Staff writer Susan Cover contributed to this report.

Leslie Bridgers — 861-9252

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