Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Award for Prisoners Beaten by OH Guards

In April of 1993, the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) at Lucasville, Ohio, erupted in one of the longest, costliest, and most violent prisoner rebellions in recent history. The rebellion brought Lucasville to national attention, but Ohio prisoners and prisoncrats had long been aware of problems leading up to the outbreak of violence. [See: What's Wrong With the Ohio DOC, by John Perotti, in the Feb. 94 issue of PLN , and Lusasville: A Brief History, by Perotti, in the Dec 93 issue] In September of this year a federal jury awarded a large settlement to two Ohio prisoners who were beaten by SOCF guards.

According to testimony of former guard Ron Tawney, the beating was a typical "attitude adjustment" for new prisoners assigned to J block who "act cocky." Tawney said that it was well known among guards at SOCF that "J2 is a spot where the officers can get theirs."

The defendants in the suit were guards Jerry Webb, Ralph Miller, Paul Duke, Lt. Chad Riggs, and former guard Stanley Lane. Tawney and Lane administered the actual beating, but Tawney was not a defendant in the civil action because he had already settled his part of the suit out of court.

The incident occurred in September of 1989, when prisoners Danny Lee Grimm and Gary W. Bennett were transferred to SOCF for disciplinary reasons after an escape attempt at another Ohio prison. Tawney testified that he and officers Webb and Miller decided the two prisoners an "attitude adjustment" and all agreed that he and Lane would "teach them a lesson."

Riggs, a Sgt. at the time of the beatings, was supervising the other guards. He encouraged Lane and Tawney to teach the newcomers a Lusasville lesson. Tawney and Lane used their nightsticks and fists to beat the shackled prisoners after knocking them to the floor of their cell.

Within days, the prisoners filed formal complaints. Prison and state officials investigated the charges. Tawney testified that he and the other guards involved in the incident agreed to deny everything. Tawney said that a union steward urged him, "If you did do it, lie about it."  

The guards' "code of silence" held throughout the investigation, but Tawney and Lane were nonetheless fired and fined $100 each in Scioto County Court for disorderly conduct. Earlier this year Tawney had a "change of conscience," settled his part of the civil suit out of court for $2,000, and testified against the other guards.  

The assistant A.G. assigned to the defendants, Marianne Pressman, conceded that Lane and Tawney had used "excessive force" against the prisoners, but declined that the other four guards had anything to do with it. She attacked Tawney's credibility, asking the jury if they should believe Tawney, an admitted liar, or the four guards who had been exonerated by the prison's initial investigation.  

The jury returned an award of $490,800 to the prisoner plaintiffs. Each prisoner was awarded punitive damages of $15,000. In addition, Grimm will receive $75,000 and Bennett, $115,800 awarded  for injuries and emotional distress.

"They got four innocent men," Lt. Riggs said. "It's unfair."

Jurors interviewed after the trial explained "The defendants just weren't believable. They were confused, and they couldn't keep their stories straight. They hung themselves."

The two prisoners, Grimm and Bennett, have since been transferred to the Mansfield Correctional Institution (MANCI). Nothing is known about the reception they received there. The defendant guards, Webb, Duke, Miller, and Lt. Riggs still work for the Ohio DOC, and are still employed at SOCF, Lucasville.

Columbus Dispatch 9/21/94, Cincinnati Enquirer 9/13/94

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Grimm v. Lane