Unprovoked, correctional officers at the Georgia State Prison at Reidsville “sadistically” assaulted two handcuffed inmates, sending them to the hospital for multiple surgeries, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.
The suit from the Southern Center for Human Rights alleges the warden and regional director knew about the ongoing abuse but did nothing. Two of those named in the complaint have been promoted. The lawsuit accuses the prison system and its employees of violating inmates’ constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment.
One inmate needed brain surgery after the attack last summer, while another required two surgeries to repair fractures in his skull, the suit said.
“This behavior has no place in a civilized society,” said Southern Center for Human Rights senior attorney Atteeyah Hollie, who filed the suit in federal court in Statesboro.
The Department of Corrections declined to comment on the pending litigation.
According to the complaint, warden Marty Allen and one-time regional director Robert Toole were “aware that officers routinely abused handcuffed prisoners” but failed to take any action. Other inmates at the South Georgia prison have also filed federal suits against the Department of Corrections making allegations similar to the ones detailed in the lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Allen is still warden at GSP and Toole, according to a Department of Corrections news release, was promoted in December to deputy director.
The lawsuit claims that on Aug. 11 Shawn Andrews and another inmate were pulled out of an inmate prayer service by Officer Wade Nobilio and a second guard. Telling the inmates they had been identified as “threats to the safety and welfare of the institution,” the guards handcuffed the pair and began escorting them to the segregation unit. Nobilio then slammed Andrews to the concrete floor, the suit charges.
Andrews , who is serving 15 years for armed robbery, was first taken to a local hospital and then airlifted to Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, where he underwent emergency surgery to repair fractures to his left eye socket and skull. A titanium plate was placed in his skull.
Andrews was in the intensive care unit five days and then spent two to three weeks more recovering in the prison infirmary. He needed physical therapy to “restore his ability to walk and maintain balance,” the suit said.
“The assault caused Andrews lasting injury” Hollie wrote in the legal filing. “He experiences memory loss, frequent headaches, psychological harm, and mental anguish.”
Andrews was never disciplined in relation to any “security threat,” the Southern Center lawyer wrote.
On the same day in August, a second inmate, Seth Rouzan, was allegedly kicked in the face as he lay on a floor in the medical unit where he had been waiting in the hallway for a psychiatric appointment. Rouzan, who is serving life without parole for a 2012 murder, was accused of exposing himself in the unit when Lt. Stephen Sharpe and two other officers began assaulting and kicking him.
They dragged Rouzan from the hallway to the prison emergency room, where he was examined by prison physician, Dr. Marcus Occhipinti.
Rouzan told the doctor that Sharpe kicked him in his right eye. Despite Rouzan’s bleeding nose, swollen eye, his inability to walk, and his allegations against Sharpe, Occhipinti diagnosed the inmate with conjunctivitis and provided no medical treatment, the lawsuit said.
The next day, Rouzan was taken to the hospital for “a traumatic injury to his right eye socket, significant vision loss in his right eye, multiple nasal bone fractures, a concussion, multiple contusions, and a lower back injury.”
He had surgery to repair the eye fractures, the suit said. And four days later Rouzan had a second surgery so doctors could put in a plate below his right eye.
Four officers are named in the suit. Nobilio and Timothy Brooks are correctional emergency response team officers. Sharpe and Curmit Williams Jr. are corrections officers.
Sharpe was fired last November and eventually charged and convicted for aggravated battery and violation of oath by a public officer, but the day after he was sentenced in April to two years probation, the court in Tattnall County discharged the conviction. Brooks was promoted to sergeant last October, according to the suit. Nobilio resigned from DOC in September while Williams still works for DOC.
The suit said the Southern Center had found evidence in court filings of other assaults on GSP inmates, some dating back to 2015. It said DOC officials knew there was a problem with inmate abuse at GSP because suits and grievances were filed.
“(DOC) records concerning reports or investigations of unlawful assaults by correctional officers are confidential and thus are presently unavailable,” the suit said.
But the Southern Center complaint said that the court docket “reflects multiple examples of officers assaulting prisoners who were either handcuffed or incapable of resisting.” It noted that three of the four officers, were defendants in five other cases brought in federal court.