"Mass Chaos" Reigns at Georgia Prisons
by David M. Reutter
Five former Georgia prison guards have pleaded guilty and three were convicted by a federal jury in connection with a severe beating that left a handcuffed prisoner hospitalized with acute brain damage. The charges followed state and federal law enforcement investigations into the assault, and the prisoner filed suit due to his injuries.
An advocacy group, meanwhile, has filed a separate lawsuit contending that violence in Georgia’s prison system is “spiraling out of control,” resulting in “mass chaos.”
On August 15, 2012, former state prison guard Darren Douglass-Griffin, 36, a member of the Correctional Emergency Response Team (CERT) at Macon State Prison, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to violate the civil rights of a prisoner and falsification of records related to the brutal beating of prisoner Terrance Dean in December 2010. The charges stemmed from an FBI investigation into organized abuse by guards at the facility.
Two other former CERT members at Macon, Emmett McKenzie and Willie Redden, entered guilty pleas in related cases. Douglass-Griffin, McKenzie and Redden remain free on unsecured bonds.
An initial Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) review of the beating incident determined that it started when Dean and guard Stephen Walden quarreled in a prison dorm. Investigators said several prisoners who witnessed the argument reported that Dale and Walden then began fighting in the rear of the dorm.
A group of other guards quickly broke it up, but not before Walden suffered bruises, swelling and a sore jaw. Dean was handcuffed behind his back and dragged to the prison gym, where there were no cameras. Once there, the GBI report said, guards kicked, punched and stomped Dean into unconsciousness.
The beating stopped only after Sgt. Christopher A. Hall physically pulled the guards off Dean. “I was screaming and pushing those guys,” Hall told a GBI investigator. “Everything I was doing was to get those guys to stop.”
Dean’s injuries were so severe – he was temporarily in a coma – that he was first taken to a local hospital and then transferred to a medical facility in Atlanta for more specialized care.
His family learned of his plight only after a prisoner used a contraband cell phone to call Dean’s brother. It took the family weeks to obtain even basic facts about his condition. “They covered it up,” stated Dean’s mother, Willie Maud Dean. “They didn’t want us to know what they did to him.”
It was not until early January 2011 that Dean’s mother was finally able to see him. “He couldn’t stand up. He couldn’t walk on his own,” she said about his injuries. “He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t use his hands.”
The GBI investigated whether Hall’s supervisors, Capt. Kevin Davis and Deputy Warden James Hinton, were aware that prisoners were regularly taken to the gym to be beaten. “I’m just trying to find out, in fairness to you, how far up this goes,” GBI agent Trebor Randle told Hall in a videotaped interview. “What about the deputy warden? Does he know?”
“Yes,” Hall said.
During that interview, Hall also discounted the guards’ cover story. For weeks they had claimed that Dean “snatched away” from the guards restraining him, then fell and hit his head as he ran away. The truth, Hall said, was that Dean was taken to the gym – out of sight of security cameras – to be beaten in retaliation for assaulting Walden.
Despite that disclosure, Hall still tried to excuse the actions of his coworkers. “I don’t think my guys meant to do it,” he said. “It just happened. They just went too far.”
Although the GBI filed charges against a number of guards involved in Dean’s beating, a state grand jury refused to indict them.
“It’s just unfortunate that there was no indictment,” observed Dean’s attorney, Mario Williams. “It sends a strong message to prisoners all over Georgia that even if GBI believes correctional officers violated the constitutional rights of a prisoner, a grand jury can still come back with no indictment.”
The FBI launched its own investigation and found that guards at Macon beat prisoners as punishment for misbehaving. Seven guards, including Hall, were indicted on federal charges that they “conspired to assault inmates, and ... conspired with Deputy Warden Hinton and others to cover up their misconduct by writing false reports and providing misleading information to investigators.”
In addition to Hinton and Hall, the federal indictment named Ronald Lach, Jr., Delton Rushin, Kerry Bolden, Derrick Wimbush, Kadarius Thomas and Tyler Griffin.
Hall, a military veteran with a decade of prison experience, initially worked at Macon State Prison, left to work at another facility and then returned to Macon in 2009. He said there was a huge deterioration in conditions following his return.
“The inmates were wild,” he stated. “It was a big change. Inmates assaulting the staff everywhere. People scared to come to work. The whole atmosphere was just chaos. All of it.”
Hall said the atmosphere negatively impacted staff at the facility. “Everybody’s just tired,” he said. “Just exhausted, man. Tired and mentally worn out.”
When pleading guilty, Douglas-Griffin admitted that he and other guards had beaten three prisoners at Macon in 2010 to punish them, then falsified reports to cover it up.
The admissions by Hall and Douglas-Griffin came as no surprise to Sarah Geraghty, a senior staff attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, which filed a lawsuit in 2011 alleging systematic brutality by guards at nearby Hays State Prison, where several prisoners have been killed. [See: PLN, Feb. 2014, p.1].
In fact, according to a legislative hearing held on April 10, 2014, 32 prisoners and one guard have been murdered in Georgia’s prison system since 2010 – a significant increase over previous years.
“Too many people have died needless deaths in the DOC in Georgia. One person has died and then the next, without the State making meaningful changes to keep people safe in custody,” Geraghty said. “The message communicated is that these are lives that we value less than other lives, and that is very wrong, totally inappropriate, and unacceptable.”
“Things seem to be spiraling out of control,” she added. “We are seeing mass chaos, essentially, in many of the prisons.”
The Southern Center for Human Rights released a report in July 2014 titled “The Crisis of Violence in Georgia Prisons,” calling for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The report cites incidents where prisoners were assaulted by other prisoners with knives, boiling water, broom handles and other weapons.
“People who are supposed to be running our prisons have lost control,” said Geraghty. “It appears they either cannot or will not take appropriate steps to address the level of violence.”
Terrance Dean filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in August 2012 against Hall, Davis, Hinton and other guards involved in his beating, claiming that the “deliberate, sadistic and malicious” attack was part of a broad pattern of illegal conduct by Macon State Prison employees. The case settled in June 2013 for $350,000. See: Dean v. Douglas, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Ga.), Case No. 5:12-cv-00120-CAR.
Four years after the beating, Dean remains disabled as he serves the rest of his 20-year sentence for armed robbery. Incarcerated at Georgia’s medical prison near Augusta, his left foot is still twisted inward and his speech is slurred. He must take anti-seizure medication three times a day and can walk only with the help of a leg brace.
“He’s not the brother that went in there,” said his older sister, Stephanie Dean.
In June 2014, following a two-week federal jury trial, former Sgt. Hall and guards Ronald Lach, Jr. and Delton Rushin were convicted in connection with Dean’s beating. They were all found guilty of obstruction of justice and conspiring to obstruct justice; Lach was also convicted of violating Dean’s civil rights.
Two other defendants, Derrick Wimbush and Tyler Griffin, as well as Deputy Warden Hinton, were acquitted. Griffin and Hinton had been placed on paid administrative leave pending their trial. Previously, Thomas had pleaded guilty in September 2013 while Bolden pleaded guilty in January 2014.
“Eight former corrections officials from Macon State Prison now stand convicted for their involvement in beating inmates and in the coordinated cover-ups that followed each assault,” stated Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels. “These officers betrayed the public trust by using their official positions to commit violent civil rights abuses and then tried to cover up their crimes.”
None of the guards who pleaded guilty or were convicted have been sentenced.
Sources: Associated Press, Huffington Post, www.ringoffireradio.com, www.fbi.gov, www.blackamericaweb.com, www.cjnotebook.com, www.macon.com, CNN, www.altantaprogressivenews.com
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