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Lawsuit raises fresh questions over safety of prison workers

August 13, 2018

REIDSVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A lawsuit by a prison nurse raises questions about the safety of medical personnel working in Georgia state prisons.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that 42-year-old Alicia Butler is suing the Department of Corrections over a 2016 assault at Georgia State Prison near Reidsville.

She says the prison system failed to properly supervise inmate Carlos Johnson Jr, who had been convicted of multiple rapes.

The lawsuit suggests that Johnson slipped into the room where Butler was working because only one officer was providing security in the medical unit. Under prison system policy, the suit contends that at least five officers should have been present.

Joan Heath, a spokeswoman for the prison system, said pending litigation prevents the department from commenting.

In a series of stories last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution detailed how security lapses at Augusta State Medical Prison, the state’s chief correctional medical facility, led several nurses to quit citing safety fears. But the Butler case suggests a more serious breach in which an inmate with a particularly violent history was allowed to roam free.

In her lawsuit, filed in May, the single mother of three describes losing consciousness several times as Johnson pinned her between a desk and the wall and repeatedly choked and punched her. Johnson left on his own, apparently so he could be at his cell for the afternoon count, she said.

“My prayer was, ‘Lord, don’t let them find me dead up here,’” she said, recalling the moment. “So my intention was to fight until somebody came.”

When the licensed practical nurse was discovered by an officer, her pants and underwear were pulled down past her thighs and her clothes were soaked with urine.

A rape kit indicated no sexual contact. However, Butler is being regularly tested for HIV because she learned that Johnson is HIV positive, according to the lawsuit. Those tests have proven negative.

Stephen Lowry, one of Butler’s attorneys, said the medical unit at Georgia State Prison encompasses two floors. On the afternoon of June 5, 2016, Lowry said the only guard on duty was stationed on the first floor, making it possible for Johnson to enter the room where Butler was working on the second floor and attack her.

Johnson, 30, has been in prison since he received a life sentence in 2006 for sexually assaulting two women at a Decatur apartment complex. The attacks were among seven that DeKalb County prosecutors charged him with, all following a pattern in which victims were choked and sodomized.

American Nurses Association President Pam Cipriano said nurses working in prisons typically can expect heightened security, but breakdowns often put those nurses in harm’s way.

“I do not want to seem callous, but, unfortunately, it did not shock me, because I’m very much aware that these things happen,” Cipriano said.

A Tattnall County grand jury indicted Johnson for assaulting Butler, contending that he tried to rape Butler “by choking her to the point of unconsciousness.” They also charged him with false imprisonment and hindering an emergency telephone call.

Johnson, incarcerated in Augusta since Butler was attacked, has pleaded not guilty.

Butler was a nurse at Georgia State Prison for 12 years until the incident led her to quit. Her mother also was a nurse at the prison for more than 30 years.

“I want them to take their responsibility,” Butler said.


Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com

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