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Lawsuit Claims DOC Also Liable For Officer's Death

April 27, 2012, 6:05 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Lawsuit Claims DOC Also Liable For Officer's Death

Two inmates have been sentenced to die for killing Correctional Officer Ron 'RJ' Johnson during a failed prison escape last year, but Johnson's widow says they aren't the only ones responsible.

A lawsuit filed Friday afternoon by Johnson's estate claims Department of Corrections officials ignored policy by housing inmates Rodney Berget and Eric Robert in less-secure areas even though they were maximum security prisoners.

In a 24-page lawsuit, Johnson's widow claims the Department of Corrections not only moved inmates Berget and Robert out of the maximum security area of the prison, but claims that DOC staff knew the pair were plotting an escape attempt that involved killing an officer.

Berget and Robert were some of the most dangerous criminals housed at the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

Robert had a 903-page file at the prison and a previous escape attempt. Berget had been in and out of the penitentiary since he was 15 and had at least seven escapes or attempted escapes on his record. That's why the inmates were classified as maximum security risks, according to the lawsuit.

However, Berget and Robert were not housed in a maximum security facility the day they tried to break out of prison by killing Correctional Officer Johnson. Both inmates were allowed to work jobs throughout the prison and had free movement within the walls.

The lawsuit says Berget and Robert were allowed to be housed in a less-secure facility and have jobs because they were having a difficult time 'adjusting' to the maximum security facility.

This was a violation of Department of Corrections policy, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit goes on to say DOC officials simply portrayed Johnson's murder as a tragic anomaly and something that could have never been predicted or prevented.

The lawsuit also says that DOC staff members had knowledge that both inmates were planning a murder and escape.  One portion of the lawsuit even says as early as 2008, during a hearing for Robert's request to reduce his 80-year prison sentence, it was learned that the inmate had been plotting to kill a prison employee during an escape.

The lawsuit also says that the after-incident report that was prepared by the DOC that says all policy and procedures were followed the day Johnson was killed misrepresents the true facts that led up to the correctional officer’s death and the attempted escape.

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