The investigator was soft-spoken, but relentless.
“Look at me and tell me that you were not in that gymnasium,” said Trebor Randle, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, sitting across a small table from the corrections officer.
“And then what?” said Sgt. Christopher A. Hall, his voice a choked whisper. “What happens to me?”
A month earlier, in December 2010, Hall led an emergency response team at Macon State Prison in central Georgia responding to a fight between an inmate, Terrance Dean, and a guard. Hall’s team broke up the fight, handcuffed Dean, and took him into the prison gym. Dean emerged with a massive head injury, comatose and clinging to life.
For weeks, Hall and the rest of his team maintained that Dean “snatched away” from the officers holding him, then fell and hit his head while running away. But in the videotaped interrogation of Hall by Randle, viewed by The Huffington Post, the guard admitted the simple truth: a handcuffed Dean was beaten by guards as punishment for assaulting their fellow officer.
“I don’t think my guys meant to do it,” Hall said. “It just happened. They just went too far.”
Nearly 16 months later, Dean’s beating remains at the center of an FBI investigation into organized brutality by guards at Macon State Prison in rural Oglethorpe, Ga. Last week, a second guard on Hall’s team, Darren Douglass-Griffin, 35, pleaded guilty to federal civil rights and conspiracy charges related to the beating of Dean and other inmates. He faces up to 25 years in prison. Earlier this year, another Macon guard pleaded guilty to similar federal charges.
The brutality probe at Macon comes amid a statewide outbreak of prison violence that has some Georgia institutions teetering on the brink of anarchy, according to a leading civil rights group in the state.
“Things seem to be spiraling out of control,” said Sarah Geraghty, a senior staff attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, an Atlanta-based legal advocacy group. “We are seeing mass chaos, essentially, in many of the prisons.”
Homicides have spiked in Georgia prisons, which are overcrowded and understaffed, as have reports of violence and abuse, Geraghty said. The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a lawsuit in 2011 against against the state, alleging systematic brutality by guards at another facility, Hays State Prison.
A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections declined to comment on the Dean case, or on conditions at Macon, citing the FBI’s ongoing investigation, and did not respond to questions about the overall condition of Georgia prisons. Hall’s attorney did not respond to messages requesting comment. Attempts to reach him directly were unsuccessful.
Dean, who recovered from the coma but remains disabled, filed a federal lawsuit against Hall and the other guards he alleges were directly involved in the beating, as well as Hall’s supervisory officers, Capt. Kevin Davis, and James Hinton, Macon’s deputy warden, who oversaw prison security.
Davis and Hinton were both aware that prisoners were being beaten in the gym, which is not equipped with cameras, according to Hall’s statements to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
“I’m just trying to find out, in fairness to you, how far up this goes,” Randle, the state agent, said during her questioning of Hall. “What about the deputy warden?”
“Does he know? Yes,” Hall said, hanging his head.
Dean’s attorney, Mario Williams of Atlanta, said he hoped the FBI investigation aggressively pursues the possibility that senior officials at Macon knew about and condoned the abuse of inmates. “I think they should be going up the chain,” Williams said.
In a response to Dean’s lawsuit, the Georgia Attorney General’s office, which represents Hinton and Davis, filed a lengthy motion denying any wronging by the two men.
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