ATLANTA (AP) — Three former Georgia prison inmates say state corrections officials didn't adequately protect them against sexual assault by a former high-ranking correctional officer and failed to investigate inmate complaints against the officer.
Former Department of Corrections Capt. Edgar Daniel Johnson used his position of power to intimidate and force the inmates to engage in sexual acts with him while they were inmates at Emanuel Women's Facility in Swainsboro, the women allege in a lawsuit announced by their lawyers on Monday.
The lawsuit alleges prison officials were made aware of Johnson's behavior and failed to investigate or take any action while the women were still there.
The Associated Press does not generally name alleged victims of sexual crimes and therefore is not naming the three women who filed the lawsuit.
The Department of Corrections fired Johnson last year, and he faces criminal charges linked to the allegations.
Vince Toreno, an attorney defending Johnson against the lawsuit, said in an email Tuesday that he has no comment on the allegations. Kendall Gross, an attorney who represents Johnson in the criminal case, said his client adamantly maintains his innocence and that some of the testimony offered at a preliminary hearing "doesn't add up." He would not elaborate.
The three women were repeatedly sexually assaulted by Johnson, with the earliest assault in April 2011 and the most recent in January 2015, the lawsuit says. He threatened to prolong their sentences, deny them parole, halt their transfer to lower-security facilities and keep them from seeing their children, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit seeks damages for the physical and mental suffering the women say they endured and for the alleged violation of their civil rights and liberties. It also asks a judge to order the implementation of a program to train corrections employees and inmates on sexual harassment and the creation of a task force to ensure against future abuses of inmates.
The case is unusual because the state has acknowledged wrongdoing by the former correctional officer by filing criminal charges against him, said Eugene Felton, an attorney for the women. The lawsuit is important, he said, to ensure proper steps are taken so this doesn't happen again.
The federal lawsuit was filed in December. Felton said he waited to publicize it until all the defendants had been served.
Lawyers for the state asked a judge last month to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing, among other things, that some of the allegations are barred by the statute of limitations and the state officials named in the suit are protected by sovereign immunity.
Clay Nix, an inspector with the Department of Corrections' office of professional standards, told the AP in July that his investigators began looking into Johnson after receiving complaints from inmates who told very specific stories with many similarities and details no one else would know.
Once they began investigating, they discovered a 2012 complaint against Johnson and evidence that it was thoroughly investigated but never presented to the district attorney, said Nix, who joined the department in August 2013. Bringing criminal charges can be very difficult when there is no physical evidence and a case is based on inmates' allegations alone, Nix said at the time.
Nix said in an email Tuesday that investigators have identified 15 women who say they were victimized by Johnson.
The Department of Corrections fired Johnson last April and he was arrested in May on multiple charges related to the investigation, including sexual assault against a person in custody and violation of oath of office. Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney Hayward Altman said in an email that he plans to present the case against Johnson to a grand jury in April.