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Georgia Prison Guards Speak Out

Shortly after Wayne Garner took over as Georgia's Corrections Commissioner in December 1995, he addressed the state legislature wherein he quipped, "...thirty to thirty-five percent [of GA prisoners] ain't fit to kill, and I'm going to be there to accommodate them." [See: "Georgia Prisons Enter the Dark Ages," PLN Vol. 7, No. 4]. In early 1997 PLN reported that two lawsuits had been filed on behalf of GA prisoners alleging brutality during prison shakedowns carried out by Garner and a large force of hand-picked "tactical squad" guards. [See: "Lawsuits Target Georgia Prison Abuse," PLN Vol. 8, No. 2].

Since then at least two other suits have been filed naming Garner and others as defendants in prison shakedown related incidents. More remarkably, though, reports have begun to surface of prison employees breaking the "blue code of silence" in sworn depositions taken by Robert Bensing and other attorneys of the Southern Center for Human Rights who represent prisoners in the suits.

Phyllis Tucker was a guard assigned to a "rover" position at Hays State Prison in July 1996, when Garner and tactical squad members stormed the prison. She said she saw a sergeant shove a prisoner face first into a wall.

"He [the prisoner] screamed," Tucker said in her deposition. "Blood went up the wall. Blood went all over the ground, all over the inmate. I heard it. I heard a sickening cracking sound."

She said the prisoner's blood splattered at least eight feet up the cinder block wall. Afterward, said Tucker, the prisoner 'stood there for quite some time, crying and asking for someone to help him."

"Is there any reason why you wouldn't have reported [this incident] ... to superiors?" asked Bensing, who deposed Tucker. "Because the superiors were there," Tucker responded. "They knew."

The naked brutality exhibited by tactical squad guards during the Hays state prison shakedown left a number of prison employees disgusted and emotionally shaken.

"I went in my office and cried," Linda Hawkins, a counselor, said in her deposition when asked what she did after observing the events described by her and other deposed employees. "I went to the restroom and threw up. It was just an emotional, exhausting time and it was hard to deal with."

According to the depositions of Hawkins, Tucker, and other prison employees: Guards walked behind prisoners, kicking and punching them when they didn't move fast because their ankles were chained or their pants were around their ankles; prisoners were dragged along concrete floors and tossed over railings to a lower level floor; and injured prisoners were refused medical treatment.

According to Georgia prisoners who have written to PLN about the shakedowns: Tactical squad guards, dressed in black and wearing no identification, marched double-time into cell blocks chanting, "Kill, kill, kill;" forced prisoners to strip in front of numerous female guards and support staff and taunted at least one naked prisoner to "dance nigger, dance;" and smashed prisoners' typewriters and fans on the concrete floor and then picked up the jagged pieces while laughing and proclaiming, "Lookee here! We found us another homemade weapon."

According to several Hays prison employees, officials from the Georgia DOC central office repeatedly boasted during a debriefing in the staff dining room "We kicked butt. We kicked [expletive]. We tore those [expletive] up.

Several of the deposed guards said they were very reluctant to talk. Among those was prison guard Jan Chapman. Her husband, a lieutenant at Hays was one of the supervisors others have said watched the beatings but did not stop them.

"I really hate this," Chapman said about answering questions under oath. "I know people who did see something who are not going to talk to you. You put me in a bad way when I can't lie... I really love the Department of Corrections."

But Jan Chapman did speak, offering several reasons for doing so: "I think it's okay to go in and knock an inmate up, just knock him out, if he gives you reasons," explained Chapman. 'But when you go snatching then out of bed for nothing... beating them while they are shackled, that is wrong."

"If this [kind of thing] can happen here like that," Chapman speculated, "it can happen in our homes several years down the road."

Garner has tried to portray prisoners who make allegations of abuse as cry babies unwilling to accept the consequences of committing crimes. But, as the statements coming from the GDC rank and file indicate, the time may soon arrive when Garner and his crack tactical squad may have to face some consequences of their own.

"A substantial group of GDC employees have stepped forward to kill the wicked witch here," writes one Hays prisoner. "It turns out that even the officers dislike Wayne Garner and most of them hope he gets fired."

That statement is supported by something Phyllis Tucker said in her deposition: "They [Garner and the tactical squad] came in and destroyed a lot of things and got the inmates very upset and they leave and you have one officer to deal with 124 upset inmates."

For that, and whatever other reasons, Tucker and other GDC employees are speaking out. Garner may have crossed not only the line of human rights abuse, events are proving that he crossed the blue line of silence, too.

Atlanta Journal Constitution, Reader Mail

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