Settlement Reached in Case Against Georgia Department of Corrections Officials on Behalf of Family of Man Murdered at Hays State Prison

11th November, 2014
Southern Center for Human Rights

ROME, GEORGIA – A civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of the mother of a man killed at Hays State Prison (“Hays”) has settled for an undisclosed sum. The case, Turner v. Owens, et al., filed in September 2013, alleged that on December 26, 2012, Damion MacClain was beaten and strangled to death by other inmates who—because of lack of supervision, broken cell-door locks long ignored by Defendants, and other dangerous conditions—were able to leave their cells in the middle of the night, assault Mr. MacClain, and kill him. The Plaintiff was represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights and Hunton & Williams LLP.

The lawsuit asserted that at the time of MacClain’s murder, Defendants, officers and administrators of the Georgia Department of Corrections, knew that security conditions at Hays had deteriorated to unconstitutional levels, resulting in stabbings, beatings, and assaults on inmates and officers, but failed to respond reasonably to the known risk of harm. Specifically, the Plaintiff alleged:

• Many of the cell door locks at Hays State Prison – a maximum security facility – did not work for years.
• Prison audits from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 reported that the facility’s cell door locks could be easily opened, leaving prisoners to roam in and out of their cells at will.
• The Defendants neither fixed the problem, nor took alternative steps to control dangerous inmate movements.
• The broken cell door locks contributed to a crisis in security at Hays, putting prisoners and officers in danger.

MacClain was the second of three men murdered at Hays in a five-week period, from December 2012 to February 2013. Derrick Stubbs was found dead in his cell on December 19, 2012. Damion MacClain was murdered on December 26, 2012. Nathaniel Reynolds was murdered on January 18, 2013. A fourth Hays prisoner, 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.

“We can’t tolerate this level of violence and trauma in our state institutions,” said 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.”

In recent weeks, the mothers of two other murdered men (Pippa Hall-Jackson and Nathaniel Reynolds) have filed lawsuits in federal court. They similarly claim that that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the rampant violence and chaotic conditions at Hays, and that those conditions caused their sons’ deaths.

In July 2014, SCHR released a report entitled, The Crisis of Violence in Georgia's Prisons about the rise in homicides in the Georgia prison system. Thirty-three Georgia prisoners and one officer have been murdered since 2010. SCHR asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, and has called on state officials to increase safety and security in the prison system.