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Georgia Prison Guards Plead to Misdemeanors in Prisoner Beatings

In mid-April 2006, seven Georgia prison guards were indicted by a Tantall County jury in connection with beatings of prisoners at the Rogers State Prison in Reidsville.

As previously reported [see PLN, April 2006, p.1], Rogers is a cesspool of violence and corruption. Handcuffed prisoners at the facility are routinely beaten with the explicit knowledge of supervisors, according to Tommy Cardell, a former guard at the prison. Cardell revealed the abuse to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May 2005 after officials in the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) ignored his complaints.

Cardell said prisoners were punched and kicked in ways that wouldnt leave big cuts or bruises, and stated his supervisors gave him padded black leather gloves to administer the beatings. Prison officials as high up as the warden were sometimes present at the beatings and even encouraged them, said Cardell. He also accused prison medical personnel of helping to cover up the beatings.

After Cardell complained to the newspaper, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations launched an investigation in July 2005. Seven guards were fired and indicted, and Warden Glenn Rich and Assistant Warden P.P. Collins were suspended. Rich retired in August 2005 while Collins was later reinstated.

The indicted GDOC guards included Stewart John Wood, for one count of assault under color of office and one count of making false statements; Michael Byrd, four counts of assault and one count of false statements; Keisha Hopkins, two counts of assault and one count of false statements; Hansford Hunter III, one count each of assault and false statements; Jason Burns, six counts of false statements; Clinton Howard, two counts of assault and one count of false statements; and Tommy Osborne, two counts of assault and one count of false statements.

The false statement charges which apply to anyone who lies, covers up facts, or falsifies documents in any matter within the jurisdiction or agency of state government or of the government of any county, city, or other political subdivision of the state carry up to 5 years in prison and a $1,000 fine. The misdemeanor assault under color of office charges apply to state officers who assault individuals without legal justification.

The beatings at the Rogers facility have spurred a number of federal lawsuits against the GDOC. McNeil Stokes, an Atlanta attorney representing 16 former and current Rogers prisoners, said the assaults were a game to the guards. It became a bloodsport at Rogers to be enjoyed two or three times a week, said Stokes.

As so often happens in such cases, the indictments proved largely ineffective. On June 5, 2006, prosecutors dropped the felony charges against six of the guards in exchange for their pleading no contest to the misdemeanor assault counts. Each was sentenced to one year in jail and fined $500. However, as part of the deal, the sentences were suspended on the condition they testify in a companion case, presumably against the seventh guard, Tommy Osborne. The charges against Osborne were then dropped because he hadn't been given an opportunity to appear at the grand jury proceedings.

Stokes said he was disappointed that the felony charges were dismissed. What if an inmate beat a guard like that? he noted. Theyd be indicted and sentenced forever. It's unfortunate. As long as they got off easy, its going to continue. Meanwhile, with the charges against him dismissed, Osborne returned to work at another Georgia prison on June 8, 2006. It's unknown if hell be issued a new pair of black leather gloves or will simply use his old ones.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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