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$350,000 Settlement for Estate of Prisoner Murdered at Georgia Prison

The Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) agreed to pay $350,000 to settle a civil rights action filed by the estate of a prisoner murdered at Hays State Prison (Hays).

As previously reported in PLN, in late 2012 and early 2013 four Hays prisoners were killed over a five-week period. [See: PLN, Feb. 2014, p.1]. The settlement came in a lawsuit brought by the family of one of those slain prisoners, Damion MacClain.

The complaint alleged that Hays, a maximum-security facility that houses about 1,600 prisoners, had “security conditions” that had “deteriorated to unconstitutional levels, resulting in multiple stabbings, beatings, and assaults on inmates and officers.” The “atmosphere of chaos and violence” that reigned at Hays was so pervasive that between July 27 and December 11, 2012 there were 26 incidents of documented assaults and stabbings. Of those, at least 15 prisoners required off-site emergency medical care for serious injuries.

On December 19, 2012, prisoner Derrick Stubbs was found dead in his segregation cell, the complaint alleged. “[H]e had been assaulted in another part of the prison where the locks did not work.” Just a week later, on December 26, MacClain, 27, was beaten and strangled to death by prisoners who were able to leave their cells in the middle of the night due to broken cell door locks.

Two other prisoners were assaulted with “a sharpened piece of metal” at Hays on January 3 and 12, 2013. That same month, prisoner Nathaniel Reynolds was murdered with a shank. The complaint also noted that “19-year-old Pippa Hall-Jackson was stabbed to death by a fellow Hays prisoner on February 5, 2013, at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, shortly after both men stepped off a bus from Hays.”

Prison officials received annual audits between 2008 and 2012 that reported the cell door locks at Hays could be easily opened, allowing prisoners to roam in and out of their cells at will. Yet they took no action to fix the problem or to “control dangerous inmate movements.”

“We can’t tolerate this level of violence and trauma in our state institutions,” said Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) senior attorney Sarah Geraghty. “Prison officials knew that 40% of the cell door locks at this maximum security prison were broken, but no one fixed the problem until three people died.”

Violence was so out of control, the complaint alleged, that guards “often remained in control rooms because they were afraid to enter prison dorms.” On the night of MacClain’s murder, a guard had not made security checks for four hours, and no staff were around to respond to his screams for help.

The $350,000 settlement was reached on November 11, 2014, but MacClain’s mother did not live to see it; she died earlier that year under questionable circumstances. MacClain’s estate was represented by SCHR attorneys Geraghty and Melanie Velez, and by Lawrence Bracken and Andrew Stulce with the law firm of Hunton & Williams. See: MacClain v. Owens, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Georgia), Case No. 4:13-cv-00210-HLM.

Shortly before the settlement was reached in the lawsuit over MacClain’s death, the mothers of Hall-Jackson and Reynolds filed a similar federal civil rights action against Georgia prison officials.

“These guys aren’t angels. They are there for a reason, but they weren’t sentenced to death,” noted attorney A. Thomas Stubbs, who represented the Hall-Jackson and Reynolds families. That case settled in February 2015 for $. See: Jackson v. Owens, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Georgia), Case No. 4:14-cv-00254-HLM.

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Related legal cases

Jackson v. Owens

MacClain v. Owens