ATLANTA -- Georgia taxpayers could be on the hook for a federal lawsuit filed this week alleging state officials’ failure to repair prison locks resulted in an inmate’s murder.
The Georgia Department of Corrections has reportedly spent more than $1 million fixing the automated locks on cells at the short-staffed, maximum-security Hays State Prison in Trion, only after multiple beatings and murders. State auditors warned of the problem yearly starting in 2008.
According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of the mother of inmate Damion MacClain who was found beaten and strangled to death Dec. 26, 2012, prison officials knew that inmates could leave their cells in the middle of the night and roam at will. The mother, RaHonda MacClain, says she repeatedly told wardens and guards of threats made against her son, a 27-year-old convicted in DeKalb County of armed robbery.
The suit quotes an officer’s log entry on the night of MacClain’s death that inmates had freely slipped out of their cells. It alleges that a 15-percent vacancy left guards too short staffed to patrol some parts of the prison.
“The Defendants were deliberately indifferent in responding to the known security hazards at Hays, even as the level of violence escalated and numerous inmates and officers were victimized,” wrote the lawyers filing the suit.
Corrections Department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan would not comment on the lawsuit. The agency has 21 days to file a formal response with the federal district court in Rome.
“The department is confident that any issues at Hays State Prison have been addressed,” she said. “We continuously review, monitor and enforce policies related to the operation of safe and secure facilities throughout all of our prisons. The department has a non-negotiable mission and commitment of protecting the public, our staff and our inmates.”
Learning about the full extent of problems at the prison has been difficult, according to Sarah Geraghty, a senior attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights. The department hasn’t supplied access to documents the attorneys requested under the state’s open-records law or has demanded approximately $250,000 to produce them.