Allegations of abuse at Augusta State Medical Prison grow

Two additional plaintiffs have been added to a civil rights lawsuit alleging that Augusta State Medical Prison guards sadistically used excess force on inmates.

 

In an amended petition filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, the names of Christopher Varner and Cameron Maddox were added as plaintiffs in the original suit filed on behalf of Eugene Griggs.

The lawsuit names as defendants Department of Corrections Associate Regional Director Stan Shepard; Augusta State Medical Prison Warden Verneal Evans; corrections officers Janson Creager and Trei Bluitt; and former corrections officers Jerry Beard, Antonio Binns, Justin Washington, Lenon Butler, Rodgerick Nabors and Julian Greenaway.

The lawsuit contends that it has been the pervasive and long-standing practice at Augusta State Medical Prison to use unnecessary force, particularly against inmates with mental illnesses. The prison was built to provide supportive incarceration for inmates with special medical needs, one-third of whom are mentally ill. But in reality, the suit contends, the inmates face significant risk of being assaulted by guards who have no meaningful oversight.

According to the lawsuit, in February 2014, Varner, who suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and organic brain damage, was choked unconscious while his hands were cuffed behind his back. He was beaten so badly he could barely walk, and the beating continued in the elevator, the suit states.

Griss, who suffers from schizophrenia and a nervous system disorder, weighs 120 pounds. In July 2015, guard Evans grabbed Griss by the neck and slammed him against wall and to the floor, the lawsuit contends.

Maddox, a schizophrenic who needs daily living assistance, was in handcuffs when Creger and Bluitt punched and kicked him in September 2016, the lawsuit alleges. Back in his cell, Maddox was thrown head first into a wall.

The use of force at Augusta State Medical Prison is not random or unforeseen, the lawsuit contends. It is widespread and entrenched.

“These prisoners are often selected for abuse because of they suffer from mental illness and have difficulty reporting assaults or being taken seriously when they do,” according to the lawsuit.

The Department of Corrections administration know of the use of excessive force but fails to take reasonable steps to protect prisoners and hold officers accountable. When inmates file grievances, they go to the internal affairs office that usually rejects claims of excessive force without any investigation, the lawsuit claims. Between Jan. 1, 2012 and July 31, only 18 of 6,807 such claims were deemed to have merit, according to the lawsuit.

One such incident involved Brandon Bonner. On Nov. 18, 2013, guards sprayed him in the face with pepper spray and beat him. After being handcuffed, Bonner was dragged into the hall where he was sprayed again, beaten and kicked, the lawsuit alleges. Former officer Jerry Beard had to go to the emergency room after the beating because he had broken his hand, according to the lawsuit.

The assault was witnessed by so many guards and inmates that it could not be ignored, the lawsuit contends. Several officers resigned after the beating.

The lawsuit notes several other incidents of alleged inmate beatings in 2013, and of a Sept. 8, 2009, incident involving Sgt. John Williams and other officers who beat Charles Outlaw, a wheelchair-bound inmate with multiple sclerosis. According to the lawsuit, Outlaw was handcuffed when he was beat and kicked and left in a pool of blood.

Williams, Binns and Washington pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the civil rights of Varner.

“Ten years ago, the 11th Circuit considered allegations that Augusta State Medical Prison officers assaulted prisoners without provocation and for no legitimate law enforcement of corrections reason and that ‘this sort of abusive treatment is systemic’ at the prison,” the lawsuit states.

Reach Sandy Hodson at sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com or (706) 823-3226

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