Ex-investigator cleared of giving contraband to death-penalty defendant

Lily Engleman, a former investigator with the Georgia Office of the Capital Defender. (COURTESY OF LILY ENGLEMAN)

Lily Engleman, a former investigator with the Georgia Office of the Capital Defender. (COURTESY OF LILY ENGLEMAN)

Charges have been dismissed against a former state investigator who was accused of passing illegal contraband to a death-penalty defendant accused of killing two prison guards.

“I’m obviously very happy I don’t have those charges over my head anymore,” said Lily Engleman, who once worked for the state capital defender’s office. “The idea I had brought in contraband was so absurd.”

Engleman, a mitigation specialist, was arrested in November 2019 and charged with giving defendant Ricky Dubose two small, unspecified items during a visit. Investigators later said Dubose hid the items in his sock. At the time, he was being held at the special management unit at the state prison in Jackson.

Donnie Russell Rowe and Ricky Dubose, accused of killing two Georgia correctional officers and then committing a crime spree, were arrested in June 2017 in Tennessee. (AJC file photo)

Credit: George Mathis

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Credit: George Mathis

Both Dubose and co-defendant Donnie Russell Rowe are accused of killing two corrections officers in June 2017 during an escape from a prison bus. State prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against both men.

After her initial arrest, Engleman was suspended with pay from her state job and later reinstated. But when Butts County prosecutors obtained a felony indictment against her in October, she was terminated.

Defense attorney Don Samuel, who represented Engleman free of charge, said prison officials largely relied on a security video of Engleman’s visit with Dubose. An investigator said it showed Engleman passing something to Dubose, Samuel said.

“You look at the video and you see that’s just a lie,” the defense attorney said. “She’s looking under the table, staring at Dubose’s feet. You don’t see her passing him anything.”

Defense attorney Don Samuel during jury selection for the Tex McIver murder trial at Fulton County Superior Court on March 5, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Engleman said she was merely looking at some of Dubose’s many tattoos, Samuel said. He added, “The district attorney did the right thing, but I think it took too long.”

On May 6, a Butts County judge approved a motion prepared by Assistant District Attorney Mark Daniel in which the state agreed to no longer prosecute Engleman. The motion noted that Samuel had met with prosecutors and given them an explanation as to what could be seen on the video. Because of that, the state foresees it would be unable to convict Engleman of any crime, Daniel wrote.

On Monday, Engleman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the two Department of Corrections investigators who arrested her and the warden of the prison where Dubose is being held.

The lawsuit noted that investigators waited until this past November, a year after Engleman’s arrest, to turn over the prison video to Engleman and Samuel so they could finally see for themselves if it showed Engleman committing a felony.

“Of course, it showed no such thing,” said the lawsuit, filed by Decatur attorney Mark Begnaud.

The suit also noted that after Engleman’s Sept. 6, 2019, meeting with Dubose, Dubose was strip-searched by guards, who found no contraband on him.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against the investigators for allegedly making false statements in their affidavit, arresting Engleman without probable cause, and malicious prosecution. It also seeks damages against the investigators and the warden on grounds they illegally recorded the privileged and confidential meeting between Engleman and Dubose.

The state Department of Corrections has no comment, said spokeswoman Joan Heath, noting the agency does not discuss ongoing litigation.

Engleman, 32, got her criminal justice degree from Georgia College and her master’s in social work at Georgia State University. She said she was drawn to helping those inside the prison system and decided to apply for a job at the capital defender’s office when she learned social workers can be mitigation specialists.

A key component of her job was getting to know defendants being represented by her office and to learn everything she could about their backgrounds. This meant interviewing family members and delving into their backgrounds.

“I learn everything about their lives, and often many have suffered from a traumatic past,” she said. “So I need to build trust, build a rapport with them, have a natural, easygoing back and forth with them.”

Since being fired by the state public defender council, Engleman lost her social worker’s license and has been unable to find a job similar to what she was doing for the state. “It’s been so frustrating,” she said, noting that she currently works at a hot wings restaurant.

“I absolutely loved my job,” Engleman said. “I can’t overstate how much I loved it there. It was very much a central part of my identity. This whole experience has been awful.”