The 2017 deaths of two Georgia prison guards could have been prevented had the Georgia Department of Corrections followed its own rules for transporting inmates, newly filed federal lawsuits claim.
In addition, the suits say, eight inmates who witnessed the slayings were physically and mentally harmed and punished with solitary confinement. All eight are represented individually by Kennesaw attorney Ted Salter, who is seeking jury trials and at least $250,000 for each man.
“People died because of stupid mistakes,” Salter said Wednesday afternoon. “It was just unbelievable the number of things that all came together at once and all could have been avoided if the people who were calling the shots had done their jobs.”
The Department of Corrections declined to comment on the lawsuits.
Convicted armed robbers and cellmates Donnie Russell Rowe and Ricky Dubose were riding on a prison bus in Putnam County on June 13, 2017, when they were able to free themselves from their handcuffs. They pried off a padlock on a gate separating inmates from the guards, Sgts. Curtis Billue and Christopher Monica. Both men were shot with their own guns, their bodies left on the front seats. Billue was 58 and Monica was 42.
In a recorded interview played during a June 2018 hearing, Dubose told agents from the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that he seized the opportunity when he noticed the gate separating officers and inmates was unlocked, that guards had failed to double lock prisoners’ handcuffs and that one of the officers was asleep.
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After the escape, authorities say, Rowe and Dubose, carjacked a Honda and held a couple hostage for several hours before stealing another car. The three-day manhunt ended with a crash near Murfreesboro, Tenn. Rowe and Dubose are awaiting trial and face the death penalty.
After the guards were killed, the state conducted an extensive investigation into the shootings and found rules for transporting prisoners weren’t followed. Corrections Commissioner Greg Dozier promised changes when he released the 53-page internal report.
Salter represents Geiger James Clifford, Timothy Elijah Faison, Timothy Brian Dotson, J.D. Powell Jr., Samuel Moss, Dennis Roberson, Timothy Arnell Ghiden Jr. and Christopher Trammell. After the escape and shooting deaths, he said, his clients were forced to serve solitary stints lasting from 30 days to 210 days, even though they weren’t involved in the incident.
“It’s a travesty that the people who were witnesses were put in solitary confinement and never advised why they were in solitary confinement,” Salter said. Trammell, Powell and Roberson are now out of prison, and all eight had been convicted of non-violent crimes, he said.
The suits say Rowe and Dubose shouldn’t have been on the same bus with Salter’s clients and that the guards shouldn’t be blamed posthumously for all the missteps that led to their deaths. In fact, their recollections portray one of the guards in particular as courageously trying to perform his duties until the end. Billue was told he’d be killed if he didn’t comply with orders to open the bus door, but wouldn’t.
“He refused. No question about that. He refused to open that door,” Salter said. “Anybody that does is an unbelievably brave person.”
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com