A lawsuit filed by a George nurse questions just how safe medical staff working in the state’s prisons really are.
The Associated Press and Atlanta Journal-Constitution report that 42-year old Alicia Butler is suing the Department of Corrections over a 2016 attack. Butler says officials failed to properly supervise inmate Carlos Johnson, Jr., incarcerated at the Georgia State Prison near Reidsville and accused of multiple rapes.
Butler’s suit claims that Johnson slipped into the medical ward and assaulted her.
He’d managed to slip past staff because the medical ward’s only on-duty guard was busy in another section. Georgia’s prison policies mandate that ‘at least’ five officers should have been present.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a story on the attack last year, detailing how other nurses had left Reidsville because they didn’t feel safe at work.
However, Butler’s case was one of the first in which an employee was physically assaulted. The nurse described how the inmate had pinned her between a wall and desk, choking her until she fell unconscious. Between lapses of reality, Butler recalls being punched and slapped.
Media outlets, along with Butler, had to question why an inmate with Johnson’s history was allowed to roam without restraint inside a Georgia State Prison medical unit. The 30-year old man has been locked up since 2006, when he received a life sentence for raping two women near an apartment complex. Prosecutors charged Johnson in seven similar cases, all of which involved female victims being choked and sodomized.
“I don’t have any idea how you could let someone like [Johnson] alone with anyone, particularly a female,” said Stephen Lowry, one of Butler’s lawyers. “In my mind, that’s a big question: How could the Georgia Department of Corrections let this happen?”
Butler says the assault continued without interruption.
“My prayer was, ‘Lord, don’t let them find me up here dead,’” Butler recounts. “So my intention was to fight until somebody came.”
The assault only ended when Johnson decided to leave, walking back to his cell to make the afternoon inmate count. A corrections officer found Butler crawling across the unit’s floor, pants pulled partway down and clothes covered in urine.
“I was soaked in urine,” she said. “I don’t know if it was my urine or his urine, but there was definitely urine on me.”
While some elements from the attack suggested a sexual element to its perpetration, rape kits found that no contact had occurred. However, Butler was forced to endure multiple HIV screenings after Johnson tested positive for the autoimmune disease.
The president of the American Nurses Association, Pam Cipriano, said prison nurses often work under treacherous conditions. Heightened security and danger are expected, but breakdowns in procedure are typical enough to place medical staff in harm’s way.
“I do not want to seem callous, but, unfortunately, it did not shock me, because I’m very much aware that these things happen,” Cipriano said.