published Sunday, April 21st, 2013

What's the best security at Hays State Prison? Job security

Hays State Prison in Trion, Ga., has had four killings in recent months. Georgia records  show that violence, from beatings to killings of inmates and, occasionally, guards, is happening in other state prisons as well.
Hays State Prison in Trion, Ga., has had four killings in recent months. Georgia records show that violence, from beatings to killings of inmates and, occasionally, guards, is happening in other state prisons as well.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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It takes a lot to get fired from the Georgia Department of Corrections.

After three key officials at Hays State Prison presided over one of the state's worst outbreaks of prison violence in a decade -- and the factors that led to it -- they're still on the job in supervisory corrections capacities.

One has been promoted.

The toll at Hays State has been substantial: Hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime costs because of a persistent shortage of guards. A bill of $1.7 million to fix consistently broken cell doors. Four dead inmates.

Warden Clay Tatum abruptly was removed from his position Feb. 6, a day after a 19-year-old Hays inmate was slain -- the fourth killing in two months at the hands of other prisoners.

But he still has a job in the corrections department. In March, Tatum was reassigned as warden of Montgomery State Prison, a much smaller, 400-bed, medium-security facility in Mount Vernon.

Unit Manager Tim Clark was the highest-ranking officer in the general prison population at Hays, where three of the inmates were killed or first attacked. He has been promoted to chief of security for mobile construction for the entire state. Corrections officials didn't respond to questions about whether Clark received a pay increase along with the new title.

Deputy Warden Shay Hatcher, head of security, is still at Hays though he now is being supplemented by a second deputy warden for a limited time, corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said.

More than a dozen current or former Hays officers criticized the department's decision to keep Hatcher and promote Clark, asking why the two administrators in charge of security haven't had to answer for the lapses they say led to the spasm of violence.

These employees blame the top officials for consistently broken cell doors dating to at least 2010, allegedly warning inmates of upcoming shakedowns and letting gang leaders control the dorms.

"I think it's appalling," said one current officer who asked not to be named for fear of his job.

And this isn't the first time Hatcher and Clark have been under scrutiny for their actions on the job, yet managed to keep their careers on track.

•••

Thirteen years ago, when Hatcher was a sergeant at Hays, he was investigated on charges of misconduct, negligence and/or unfitness in performing his assigned duties.

Among the allegations detailed in department records were:

• That he ordered a prisoner to "twirl like a ballerina."

• That he ordered an inmate to simulate oral sex with a known homosexual prisoner, saying: "Push it baby, push it on out."

Officials found sufficient evidence to terminate Hatcher, and he was fired, department records show.

But four months later, in December 2000, he was reinstated.

He worked his way back up the chain of command at multiple prisons until he was assigned as deputy warden of security at Hays in 2011.

Officers blame Hatcher for security lapses for ordering them to warn inmates of upcoming shakedowns for contraband weapons and cellphones. Those officers say the warnings put the lives of all officers in grave danger.

The Georgia Department of Corrections has refused to grant an interview with Hatcher.

•••

A fight broke out Aug. 12, 2010, when inmates jumped an officer inside a D building dorm at Hays. As the inmates hit the guard over and over, another officer jumped in to fight them off. He, too, was attacked, according to documents related to the investigation.

The officers struggled to reach the door and slammed it shut.

Clark was the highest-ranking officer on the scene, and when backup arrived -- the specially equipped 12-officer tactical squad -- he ordered them into the cell, guards said.

At least four prisoners later filed use-of-force complaints. The Southern Center for Human Rights sued the Department of Corrections and a dozen guards including Clark, who was a captain at the time.

Inmates alleged that Clark shouted, "Give them something they can send pictures to their mommas" before the tactical team burst through the door.

Guards as well as inmates suffered numerous injuries.

Employees said four officers accused of using excessive force quit under pressure from the administration. The officer accused of starting the fight was placed on paid leave for five months until he finally quit.

Multiple sources privy to the information say Clark caused the violence to escalate. Yet Clark's personnel file shows no record of him being disciplined in connection with the incident.

In 2012, the Department of Corrections settled the suit for $93,000.

Around that same time, Clark was promoted from chief of security to unit manager, receiving a 10 percent pay increase, according to his personnel file.

Records obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press also show that Clark was accused of sexual discrimination in 2010.

A July 2011 letter to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission details Sgt. Ida Millican's complaint alleging that Clark, her supervisor, had consistently harassed her. She alleged he said things like, "We could make pretty blue-eyed babies together," and slapped her on the buttocks, saying "good game."

State investigators later ruled the allegations unfounded. Millican resigned effective Aug. 1, 2011, saying she was suffering from anxiety attacks and headaches.

Clark didn't return calls seeking comment. The Department of Corrections did not respond to questions about the allegations.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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