Johnson Family Files Lawsuit Against DOC
by Breanna Fuss, Reporter
October 21, 2013 9:42 PM
The family of murdered Correctional Officer Ronald ‘R.J.’ Johnson has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against some of the top officials at the South Dakota Department of Corrections.
In the lawsuit, which was put together by the Johnson family’s attorney, it’s shown that numerous prison policies were violated. That resulted in two maximum security prisoners to be held at a lower security facility, which resulted in Johnson’s death.
Former Warden Doug Weber said in the lawsuit filed that Rodney Berget and Eric Robert 'manipulated the system,' to make sure they were put into a lesser security prison. Berget and Robert were both sentenced to death after being found guilty of killing Johnson in April of 2011, during an attempted prison escape.
The 81 page lawsuit is riddled with 'this was in violation of,' and 'lacked these signatures.'
In mid-October the 'Plaintiff’s Statement of Material Facts,' was filed by Johnson's wife, Lynette. In the lawsuit, there are pages of depositions from top South Dakota Department of Corrections Officials and inmates.
Amongst the pages is evidence that polices were not followed, which ultimately resulted with two maximum security inmates being locked up in Wes Hall the main prison, rather than the Jameson Annex, the maximum security prison.
Documents show as far back as 1995, Berget reportedly had a plan to kill a guard so he could escape. In the lawsuit it’s shown that he repeatedly went on 'hunger strikes' so he could be moved from the Jameson Annex to Wes Hall.
Eric Robert was serving an 80 year sentence for kidnapping. He too played the 'hunger strike' card and was also moved.
In the lawsuit, it’s shown that those transfers were wrongfully done.
In an After-Incident Report following Johnson's murder, the transfer manager admitted that the DOC 'failed to obtain the appropriate approvals’ for the placement of Robert and Berget. In the depositions it is also shown that former Warden Weber admits that there was no 'factual basis,' and that risk was not considered in regards to the inmates’ placements.
Documents show that in annual assessments Robert and Berget were considered high risk inmates.
The documents also show that Weber admits he personally met with Berget and Robert during their hunger strikes, after which, both began to eat. Both said they wouldn't eat unless they met with the warden. Weber admits in his deposition that the DOC has a policy that prohibits making deals with inmates to end hunger strikes.
Correctional Officer Rebecca Weaver said in her deposition she was also worried that Weber would blame someone else for the decisions made regarding Berget and Robert. At one point she made copies of documents kept on the inmates, fearing they would be changed.
The DOC is working to file a response to the court.
Robert was executed by lethal injection in October of last year. Berget’s death sentence was reversed by the South Dakota Supreme Court in January; however he was sentenced to death again in May. Berget appealed that sentence in July, and his scheduled execution for January 2014 has been delayed.