Georgia correctional officer charged with murder in death of state prison inmate

Warrants say slaying came as a prisoner who was being attacked with a machete-like weapon killed an attacker in self defense.
Roderick Hayes, an inmate at Augusta State Medical Prison, was killed on Saturday. A correctional officer was fired the same day and charged with murder. Two inmates also were charged in the case. (GDC; AJC staff photo)

Credit: GDC & AJC staff photo

Credit: GDC & AJC staff photo

Roderick Hayes, an inmate at Augusta State Medical Prison, was killed on Saturday. A correctional officer was fired the same day and charged with murder. Two inmates also were charged in the case. (GDC; AJC staff photo)

A Georgia correctional officer has been charged with murder in the death of a state prison inmate, a rare charge that adds a new dimension to the ongoing crisis related to violence and corruption within the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Lloyd Hopkins, a correctional officer at Augusta State Medical Prison, was charged with felony murder, aggravated assault and violation of oath by a public officer in connection with the death of Roderick Hayes.

Two other inmates, Brendon Moore and Andy Ulysse, were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in the case.

According to arrest warrants, Hopkins helped Moore, Ulysse and Hayes assault another inmate with a “machete like weapon” in an attempt to retrieve a contraband cell phone. But the inmate who was targeted in the attack, Robert Robish, defended himself and stabbed Hayes.

Hayes died Saturday, and Hopkins was immediately fired, according to the GDC.

The GDC said in a statement that Hayes’ death was the “result of an altercation.” It’s unclear from the warrants what role Hopkins is accused of playing in the attack. The prison system said he was a “party to” the murder and assault.

Hopkins, 51, had worked as an officer at the prison in Groveton since 2021, according to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. He is being held without bond at the Columbia County jail, according to county records.

“The GDC maintains a zero-tolerance policy for individuals who choose to ignore their oath and jeopardize our non-negotiable mission of public safety,” said GDC spokesperson Lori Benoit in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The actions of this individual do not reflect the hundreds of officers who are committed each and every day to ensuring the safety of the public and the safe operations of our facilities.”

Benoit said Hayes’ body had been turned over to the coroner and will be sent to the medical examiner’s office at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to determine the official cause of death. The GDC declined to provide further details, saying an investigation is being conducted by the agency’s Office of Professional Standards.

Hayes was serving a 10-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in October 2019 to crimes that included sexual exploitation of a minor and cruelty to children in Fulton County. He was 25 at the time he was sentenced.

The murder charge against one of its own comes as the Department of Corrections is under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has been investigating violence and other problems within the prison system since 2021. The GDC is also facing scrutiny by a state Senate subcommittee and a contempt order in a long-running federal lawsuit related to conditions at its “supermax” facility: the Special Management Unit in Jackson.

Deadly violence has reached record levels within the GDC. At least 37 Georgia prison deaths in 2023 were homicides, including the killing of correctional officer at Smith State Prison. The GDC is currently on pace to exceed last year’s record, the AJC reported this month.

A murder charge against an officer in the death of an inmate is extremely unusual. The AJC identified one similar case. In 2017, correctional officer Shakera Burns and three inmates were charged in connection with the brutal beating death of Joshua Brooks, an inmate at Calhoun State Prison. Burns was charged with murder, but in 2019 she pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to two years in the county jail and 13 years of probation.

The altercation that led to Hayes’ death is the latest in a string of killings and other incidents that call into question the management of Augusta State Medical Prison, which straddles the Richmond and Columbia county lines.

In 2022, Daniel Farmer, a correctional officer at the prison, was charged with aggravated assault for his role in aiding a convicted killer’s stabbing of Terry Anthony, an inmate who survived the assault. The charges are pending.

Last year, the state agreed to pay $5 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of Thomas Giles, a 31-year-old inmate with severe mental health issues who died after he was left for more than three hours in his cell after setting his mattress on fire in 2020.

A GBI medical examiner ruled Giles’ death a homicide, citing the fact that, even though Giles started the fire himself, the officers on duty didn’t attempt to prevent or extinguish it. Three of the officers resigned, but no one was charged with a crime.

Columbia County District Attorney Bobby Christine told the AJC earlier this year that his office reviewed the matter and decided to refer it to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hayes’ killing also mirrors an incident at Phillips State Prison in 2022 when a gang-related altercation, apparently instigated by guards, resulted in the death of a 19-year-old prisoner, Quafabian McBride.

Evidence showed that McBride was stabbed to death after he was able to move freely from one end of the Buford prison to another — from a general population dorm to the lockdown unit — so he and another inmate could attack a rival gang member. Two officers linked to the incident were fired, but no criminal charges were filed.