Family wins settlement in Hays State Prison wrongful death lawsuit
First lawsuit filed against Georgia's prison system for violence at Hays State Prison that led to four prisoner deaths has been settled for several hundred thousand dollars
By Joy Lukachick Smith
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The first lawsuit filed against Georgia's prison system for violence at Hays State Prison that led to four prisoner deaths has been settled for several hundred thousand dollars.
RaHonda MacClain, the mother of Damion MacClain, had wanted the state held accountable for ignoring the ruthless gang violence and dangerous conditions where cell door locks were left broken or could be defeated with only a napkin.
It was those conditions that led to her son being beaten and strangled and left in his prison bed to die, her lawsuit filed in September 2013 stated.
If she had lived long enough to testify against the Department of Corrections -- from State Commissioner Brian Owens to the dorm guards at Hays -- MacClain's family said they wouldn't have chosen to settle.
But MacClain was the main witness in the case, said her brother Lysander Turner. After her unexpected death earlier this year, the Southern Center for Human Rights, which handled the case for the family, encouraged him to settle. Turner said he didn't want to give the exact amount of the settlement.
"If it was left up to me I would have took it all the way," he said. "It wasn't really about the money. I just wanted to bring the attention of the public to the Department of Corrections."
The Department of Corrections didn't comment on the settlement Tuesday.
Damion MacClain was the second prisoner killed in a week at Hays State Prison in December 2012. Two more men would die in a seven-week span before the Department of Corrections ousted the warden and funneled millions of dollars to fix broken cell doors and harden cells where prisoners were pulling the metal from window frames and vents to make deadly weapons.
The families of the last two inmates killed -- 19-year-old Pippa Hall-Jackson and Nathaniel Reynolds -- also sued the Department of Corrections in October. The suit alleges 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.
The deaths at Hays State Prison and dozens of others in the Georgia prison system haven't gone unnoticed, said state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, who held a hearing in April at the Capitol to discuss the growing violence.
Fort said the state must do more to ensure the safety of its prisoners. He said he will meet with Owens before he decides whether to introduce legislation next year.
"I think it's a challenge for the state," he said. "The governor and his administration have been touting that fewer inmates are in the [prison] system and that's not enough. We have to make sure the inmates that are in the system are not preyed upon."