By GREG BLUESTEIN, AP, Jan. 8, 2008
ATLANTA - A group of prisoners filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday contending that Georgia corrections officers have systematically beaten restrained inmates in prisons throughout the state, leaving two dead and dozens of others injured.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Valdosta, names 25 guards and other corrections officials as culprits in routine beatings and torture of restrained inmates. It also claims they subsequently covered up the abuses by inflicting even more beatings on prisoners who file complaints.
Seven Valdosta State Prison inmates claim in court documents that members of the prison's response team kicked them with combat boots, choked them with night sticks and donned black leather "beating gloves" to carry out the attacks between October 2005 and August 2007.
The lawsuit also mentions the cases of more than 40 inmates in other Georgia prisons who claim, among other abuses, that guards strapped inmates to iron beds and left them without food or water for as long as two days and banned beating victims from seeing family members or being photographed.
Most of the incidents allegedly took place between 2003 and 2005.
Paul Czachowski, a spokesman for the state's corrections system, said there is a "pending investigation" into the Valdosta State Prison. He declined further comment until he saw the lawsuit.
The beatings have become a "very ingrained brutal practice that is covered up by the guards, supervisors, wardens and medical personnel," said McNeill Stokes, an Atlanta defense attorney who filed the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks an immediate end to the beatings and compensation for victims.
Stokes has filed more than 40 lawsuits during the last few years contending the beatings are banned by the Georgia Constitution, which says "neither banishment beyond the limits of the state nor whipping shall be allowed as a punishment for a crime."
The lawsuit alleges that two prisoners — Charles "Chad" Clark and Jonathan Haynes — have died as a result of the beatings.
Clark died April 19, 2005, of cardiac arrest after he was beaten, shot with pepper spray, dragged across the floor and left bleeding in a restraint for hours, the lawsuit said. Haynes, an inmate at Autry State Prison, fell unconscious when officers threw him into a wall, and the next day — Oct. 14, 2004 — he was pronounced dead, it said.