Originally created 05/26/01

Prison fight gets inmates assault charge



A two-on-one brawl inside a Richmond County jail cell has led to additional felony charges for two inmates awaiting murder trials.

The victim in the fight, Terrance Barr, 28, suffered four broken ribs and a punctured lung, Investigator Ken Rogers said. He spent four days at University Hospital, where doctors ran a tube into his chest to drain fluid.

Deputies working at the jail usually handle three or four fights per week, according to Capt. Gene Johnson, who oversees operations. Budget cuts mandated by the Augusta Commission earlier this year have strained the already understaffed, overcrowded facility, though, and deputies often have to scramble to find jailers who can leave their posts to separate inmates, he said.

Earlier this year a Richmond County grand jury called for the jail at the Law Enforcement Center - dubbed "401" for its address on Walton Way - to be closed within 10 years and have its operations moved to an expanded penitentiary on Phinizy Road.

Currently, at both the Walton Way and Phinizy Road jails, about 35 deputies and supervisors watch over about 800 inmates on a given shift.

"We don't have enough people to do what we're doing," Capt. Johnson said. "These people are busting their behinds."

The attack on Mr. Barr happened April 3 on the Walton Way jail's sixth floor, where the Richmond County Sheriff's Office typically keeps violent crime suspects.

Mr. Barr returned to his cell and found Haskell Johnson, 20, and Joseph Parks, 19, there. As he looked to see whether they'd taken anything, the two men attacked him, Investigator Rogers said.

In an incident report, Mr. Barr said the men beat him about the chest and face because they wanted his blanket.

In both jails, "rover" deputies roam the corridors, keeping an eye on the populace, Capt. Johnson said. Often, a deputy working at a command station sees a fight and radios for help, but the rovers are busy transporting inmates and have to lock them up before they can enter the fray.

"We don't deal with the pillars of the community," Capt. Johnson said. "They'll fight over anything."

Police charged Mr. Haskell and Mr. Parks with aggravated assault Friday in the attack on Mr. Barr. Authorities already had implicated them in separate, drug-related killings.

Mr. Johnson is charged in the March 2000 shooting death of Ritchard Lewis, 36, and already has been sentenced to 15 years for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Mr. Parks is one of two men charged with killing Najeeb Hanif Charles, 19, in February.

Mr. Barr was sentenced earlier this month to two years in prison for credit card fraud and theft by receiving. He also is charged with aggravated battery and false imprisonment. According to arrest warrants, in February he beat a woman he lived with and burned her forearm with an iron.

Jailers moved Mr. Barr to the fifth floor after the melee. Capt. Johnson said inmates involved in fights typically get placed on lock down for five days, during which they cannot leave their cells, see visitors, use the phone, receive mail or watch television.

In serious incidents, they also get criminal charges added to their rap sheets.

But Capt. Johnson said a lot of inmates punished this way don't care. They keep fighting anyway.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.