Second lawsuit filed over Hays State Prison killings

Second lawsuit filed over Hays State Prison killings

November 6th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Hays State Prison in Trion, Ga.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

A second lawsuit has been filed against Georgia corrections officials over one of the bloodiest spans at a state prison in recent memory.

Four Hays State Prison inmates were slain by other inmates over seven weeks beginning on Dec. 19, 2012.

Relatives of two of those slain inmates sued the Department of Corrections in October claiming that 11 prison officials -- from the state commissioner to low-level guards -- were deliberately indifferent to the growing violence that led to their sons' deaths.

Three killings already had taken place at the maximum-security facility in Trion, Ga., when 19-year-old Pippa Hall-Jackson was stabbed through the heart on Feb. 5, 2013.

"I'm hoping the killers stop and they clean up these prison systems," said Yolanda Jackson, Hall-Jackson's mother and one of the plaintiffs. "The guards, wardens and people in Atlanta, we need to keep them accountable."

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. Northern District Court of Georgia in late October describes how the violence escalated at Hays, where gang leaders had taken charge of prison dorm rooms and where some prison officials had warned inmates of upcoming shakedowns for weapons and ignored audits that documented broken cell door locks.

Corrections officials declined to comment, saying they hadn't been served with the lawsuit.

Tom Stubbs, the attorney representing the inmates' families, said he will prove how the broken locks and the atmosphere that led to gang warfare resulted in the deaths of Hall-Jackson and Nathaniel Reynolds.

"These guys aren't angels. They are there for a reason, but they weren't sentenced to death," Stubbs said. "That's what the conditions at Hays have become."

On Jan. 18, 2013, guards escorted Reynolds, a 30-year-old convicted murderer, from a holding cell past another inmate with whom Reynolds had recently fought. The lawsuit alleges that Reynolds was then cornered between a wall and a fence and inmates stabbed him 17 times while unarmed officers watched.

Then on Feb. 5, the suit alleges, Hall-Jackson was loaded on a transfer bus at Hays with members of a rival gang. None of the inmates was checked for weapons, the suit alleges. When they reached the transfer yard at the maximum-security prison in Jackson, Ga., Hall-Jackson was unshackled along with the other inmates and left in the yard. That's when rival gang members attacked him and stabbed him once through the heart.

A prison video shows Hall-Jackson fall to the ground crying in pain as guards watch him die, Stubbs said.

Following the four deaths and a Times Free Press investigation last year that revealed that many locks at Hays had been broken for years and that gang leaders wielded undue power and influence, state officials moved to make changes. They removed the warden, spent millions fixing the broken locks and stripping cells of metal objects that could be used to make weapons.

The Department of Corrections also issued stab-proof vests to guards.

Within months, RaHonda MacClain, mother of Damion MacClain -- the second of the four inmates to be killed -- sued prison officials. In a suit filed in September 2013, she claimed that officials knew about the conditions at Hays that led to her son's death but chose to ignore them.

The case hasn't seen movement in months. Meanwhile, RaHonda MacClain has died.

Yolanda Jackson said she hopes her lawsuit will be the voice for families that have lost a son or a brother in the prison system. MacClain had been an advocate for the grieving families, but after her death, Jackson said, she had to step up. In April, she told her story at a legislative hearing at the state Capitol.

While she said she hasn't seen any changes as a result of the hearing, perhaps this lawsuit will get the public's attention.

"Peoples' families are crying out for help," Jackson said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick Smith at jsmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.


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