Hays State Prison inmates on trial in guard assault

Hays State Prison inmates on trial in guard assault

August 16th, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Hays State Prison in Trion, Ga.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

Before a string of killings marked Hays State Prison as one of the most dangerous penal institutions in Georgia, Correctional Officer Leonard Schrader tried to help another officer who was under attack.

During a brawl in the South Chow Hall in May 2012, Schrader banged his baton against the arms of two inmates. Then someone behind him smashed a walking cane on the back of Schrader's head. Dazed, he saw another inmate holding a shank.

"The inmate struck me just below my nose with the homemade knife, cutting my upper lip in half," Schrader later wrote in a Georgia Department of Corrections incident report. "I received another cut just above my left eye before three inmates picked me up and slammed me to the concrete. Once on the ground the inmates were stomping and kicking my head while other inmates picked up a dining table and slammed it down on me."

The report provides few details about who did what during the brawl. But a jury trial for four of the inmates allegedly involved begins at 9 this morning in Catoosa County Superior Court.

William Nabarro Castillo, Allen Merrill Cobb, James Lee Roberts and Raymond E. Razo all face charges of rioting in a penal institution and obstruction of officer. Cobb, Roberts and Razo also face charges of aggravated assault, and Castillo and Cobb are charged with simple battery.

The fight came during a time when odds were stacked against Hays State guards. Beginning in April 2012, according to Times Free Press archives, the prison was understaffed for nine straight months.

Amid the violence, guards quit faster than the Department of Corrections could replace them. While a full staff at Hays State would consist of 293 guards, 105 guards quit and 13 more were fired during that time period.

The violence peaked in December 2012 and January 2013. During a four-week stretch, inmates killed three of their own. Then, on Feb. 5, 2013, former Hays State inmates killed another inmate who had recently joined them at a new prison.

The next day, the Department of Corrections removed Hays Warden Clay Tatum.

But all of that happened after that May 2012 riot. According to a Department of Corrections incident report, the fight began after Sgt. Tommy Smith confronted Razo in the chow hall about taking an extra tray. Smith ordered Officer James Chapman to escort Razo out of the room.

Instead, according to a grand jury indictment, Razo punched Smith in the face, "disfiguring" the guard's nose.

When Chapman "tried assisting" Smith, about five other inmates attacked both men. More guards responded. Members of the Gangster Disciples attacked Schrader. One lieutenant unleashed pepper spray on the some prisoners.

In the end, all that was left was the physical marks of the brawl -- bruised faces, black eyes, chipped teeth, split lips -- and the seeds of violence that would flower months later.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com at or 423-757-6476.