ATLANTA – Guards at a Georgia prison brutally beat two handcuffed inmates last year, leaving them with injuries that required surgery, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday.
The Southern Center for Human Rights filed suit against six current and former Department of Corrections employees. It was presented on behalf of inmates Shawn Andrews and Seth Rouzan, who say they were beaten Aug. 11 at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Atlanta.
"An officer's role is to keep incarcerated people safe," Southern Center attorney Atteeyah Hollie said in a news release. "Brutally beating handcuffed prisoners does quite the opposite. This behavior has no place in a civilized society."
The Department of Corrections doesn't comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Joan Heath said in an email Thursday.
The lawsuit says guards pulled Andrews and another inmate from a prayer service and cuffed their hands behind their backs and led them toward the segregation unit. When the two inmates asked why they were being taken to the segregation unit, a guard said they had been identified as "threats to the safety and welfare of the institution," the lawsuit says.
Andrews stopped walking and asked again why he was being taken to the segregation unit. In response, Officer Wade Nobilio grabbed his arms from behind and slammed him to the ground, causing his head to smash into the concrete floor, the lawsuit says.
Andrews was airlifted to a hospital where his skull was opened during surgery to treat a life-threatening blood clot on his brain, the lawsuit says. A titanium plate was used to patch the hole in his skull.
Nobilio voluntarily resigned from the Department of Corrections on Sept. 8, the lawsuit says.
Rouzan was in the prison's medical area for a psychiatric appointment, when an officer accused him of exposing himself, the lawsuit says.
Rouzan lay face down as Officer Stephen Sharpe dragged him by his arms about 10 or 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) to a secluded hallway. Sharpe and Officer Timothy Brooks decided to beat Rouzan, and Officer Curmit Williams Jr. arrived and began punching him, the lawsuit says. Williams and Brooks cuffed Rouzan's hands behind his back, and Sharpe kicked him, the lawsuit says.
It adds the guards dragged Rouzan to the prison emergency room, where a doctor asked what happened. Rouzan said Sharpe had kicked him in the eye. Despite his condition, the doctor didn't provide any medical treatment, the lawsuit says.
Seeing his condition the next morning, guards brought him back to the prison emergency room, and he was sent to a hospital for treatment. He suffered a fractured right eye socket that required surgery, as well as multiple facial fractures, a concussion and other injuries, the lawsuit says.
In statements written the day of the alleged assault, Brooks and Sharpe said they put their hands on Rouzan to force him to the ground but denied any further use of force, the lawsuit says.
Each wrote a second statement several days later. Sharpe specifically denied kicking Rouzan, while Brooks contradicted his earlier statement and wrote that Sharpe kicked Rouzan in the face, the lawsuit says.
Sharpe was placed on administrative leave Aug. 17 and was fired Nov. 6. The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council opened an investigation into him. A grand jury indicted him in December. He was sentenced earlier this month to two years of probation for violating his oath as a public officer and simple battery. The next day, the court discharged his conviction, meaning his record won't reflect the prosecution, the lawsuit says.
Brooks was promoted in October from officer to sergeant, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also describes alleged beatings of other inmates at the prison.
At the time of the alleged assaults, Marty Allen was the prison warden and Robert Toole was Department of Corrections regional director for the region that includes Georgia State Prison. Both knew the officers had been accused of assaulting prisoners in the months and years preceding the alleged assault and took no action, according to the lawsuit.
Andrews, 29, is in prison for armed robbery and has been moved to Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe, according to online records. Rouzan, 32, is serving a life sentence for murder and is now housed at Hays State Prison in Trion.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.