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Suit seeks Barksdale's
inmate file

Family, human rights group suing Dept. of Corrections

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

Taxpayers have a right to know what goes on behind the prison walls their money built, said an attorney whose Atlanta group is suing to get Farron Barksdale's inmate file.

On Thursday, the Southern Center for Human Rights and attorneys for Barksdale's family filed an open records act lawsuit against Department of Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen.

The family's attorneys, Jake Watson and Herman Watson Jr., said DOC has repeatedly denied their requests for Barksdale's inmate records and records relating to his death in prison.

DOC spokesman Brian Corbett has told The Daily those records are confidential and not public record, but that forensics will release the completed autopsy.

The center and Barksdale's attorneys filed suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

The suit also includes requests for inmate files related to alleged stabbings, other assaults and inmate deaths at Donaldson Correctional Facility.

"Here in Georgia, when I get a serious report from an inmate or inmate's family, I write a request letter to DOC for the incident reports, and they are mailed to me within a couple of weeks," said center attorney Sarah Geraghty. "Getting the same reports from Alabama has long been a source of frustration. Our office has been seeking records regarding Donaldson for a year."

Geraghty said the center decided to include Barksdale with its suit over Donaldson records because of questions surrounding Barksdale's death.

"His mother (Mary Barksdale) has a right to know how and why her son died," Geraghty said.

Barksdale, 32, pleaded guilty to capital murder for the January 2004 shooting deaths of Athens police Sgt. Larry Russell and officer Tony Mims. His attorneys said he was a paranoid schizophrenic, but state doctors determined he was mentally competent to stand trial.

Barksdale received life without possibility of parole. He was sent from Limestone County Jail to Kilby Correctional Facility on Aug. 8.

Limestone Sheriff Mike Blakely said Barksdale was in good health and doing push-ups before his transfer.

Found unconscious

Kilby sent Barksdale to a Montgomery hospital Aug. 11 after finding him unconscious in his cell. He never regained consciousness and died Aug. 20 when his family opted to remove him from life support.

DOC officials said he had unexplained bruising but speculated his death could have been due to heat-related problems or a respiratory infection. A preliminary autopsy said the cause of death is "pending." The autopsy is not complete but is one record the state will have to make available to the public upon request.

Geraghty said the DOC contends that all documents regarding any incident that occurs in prison, including incidents resulting in death or serious injury to inmates, are confidential and not open to the public.

"We get mail and calls from inmates and their families about prison conditions, brutality and assaults," Geraghty said. "To look into these allegations, we need to see the files, and we can't get access. We can't even determine what allegations might be legitimate."

'Epidemic' of violence

The center wants records from Donaldson related to what it calls an "epidemic of inmate violence" at the facility.

For the past year, inmates have made reports to the center about stabbings and beatings with knives, ice picks, box cutters, broomstick handles and other objects. The attacks allegedly left them with lacerations, ruptured organs, loss of eyesight, partial paralysis and other physical injuries, as well as psychological trauma. The center has accumulated a list of 50 violent incidents, including two inmate deaths.

The department has never released records regarding the incidents, Geraghty said.

On May 13, 2007, plaintiff Dana Davis was nearly killed when another inmate cut his throat and stabbed him more than 10 times, the center's lawsuit states.

Plaintiff Leo Beverly was stabbed numerous times in 2006. His lung was punctured.

Plaintiff Brandon Russell was hospitalized after being stabbed multiple times with a prison-made shank.

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