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September 5, 2013

Mother of slain Ga. inmate sues prison officials

ATLANTA — The mother of a Georgia inmate killed during a fight in a prison cell sued in federal court Wednesday, accusing prison officials of violating her son’s civil rights.

RaHonda MacClain’s 27-year-old son, Damion MacClain, was found dead in his cell at Hays State Prison on Dec. 26. He was the second of three inmates found dead at the northwest Georgia prison in a five-week period in December and January.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Rome alleges the inmates who killed her son were able to leave their cells in the middle of the night and assault him because they were unsupervised and cell door locks were broken.

The lawsuit names Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens and other corrections officials, including guards who were on duty at the time of Damion MacClain’s death. It was filed on behalf of RaHonda MacClain by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the law firm Hunton & Williams and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Two spokespeople for the Department of Corrections did not immediately return after-hours emails seeking comment Wednesday.

“Mr. MacClain’s death was both foreseeable and entirely preventable,” Southern Center attorney Sarah Geraghty said in an emailed statement. “Defendants had plenty of notice that conditions at Hays were life-threatening for prisoners and officers, but they ignored the problem.”

Department of Corrections officers and administrators knew conditions at the prison had deteriorated to dangerous levels, leading to multiple stabbings, beatings and assaults on inmates and officers, but they failed to respond in a reasonable way, the lawsuit says.

Derrick Stubbs, 25, was found dead in his cell on Dec. 19, a week before Damion MacClain was killed, and Nathaniel Reynolds, 31, was killed in a prison fight Jan. 18. A fourth Hays State prisoner, Pippa Hall-Jackson, 19, was stabbed to death Feb. 5 immediately after he was transferred to the Georgia Diagnostic & Classification Prison in Jackson by another Hays State transferee.

Two correctional officers were assaulted by inmates Jan. 27. Both received minor injuries and were treated at a local hospital.

The lawsuit says RaHonda MacClain had told prison officials that her son had been threatened by other inmates and was in danger and needed to be transferred.

RaHonda MacClain told The Associated Press earlier this year that her son told her repeatedly he feared for his safety and didn’t think he’d make it to his 28th birthday. She said she felt constant fear for her son and when she spoke to him Christmas night, a few hours before he was killed.

“After I talked to him it just started happening all over again. My peace was just disrupted. The spirit of fear was just all over me,” she said. “And then when I got up the next morning, it was the 26th, that Wednesday. I was praying and I was praying for my son, and that fear was all over me. Then at 8:47, I got a call from the warden telling me he was calling me with some bad news.”

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