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08-15-2004, 01:06 PM
Death of inmate at Buford prison investigated

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/13/04

Authorities are investigating the slaying of an inmate at Phillips State Prison in Buford.

Grover Eugene Harris, 46, was found unconscious in his cell about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, said Peggy Chapman, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections. The GBI is investigating the death and has ruled it a homicide, said GBI spokesman John Bankhead.

Grover Eugene Harris' death at Phillips State Prison has been ruled a homicide.

Harris received a 20-year sentence in 1990 for multiple offenses, the most serious being burglary.

Prison officials say inmate Matt Rogers, 29, approached a guard Wednesday afternoon and said he had fought with Harris and that he believed Harris was not breathing. Criminal charges will likely be filed against Rogers, who began a life sentence in 1997 for armed robbery and voluntary manslaughter out of Clarke County. Neither of the men were being held in the prison's mental health unit, which has been under scrutiny by the Southern Center for Human Rights.

An autopsy was performed Thursday on Harris, but officials said results would be withheld due to the pending criminal investigation.

"Any time we lose an inmate like this it's a terrible tragedy," said Brian Owens, executive assistant to Corrections Commissioner James Donald. "These incidents make us redouble our efforts to ensure the safety of both the inmates and the staff in the prisons."

Harris is the latest addition to a growing list of inmates who have died at the prison. Phillips State Prison has come under fire recently and critics have called the facility unsafe.

A lawsuit filed last year by the Southern Center for Human Rights claims the Georgia Department of Corrections has failed to protect mentally ill inmates at the 1,200-bed facility.

Six inmates have died from suicide, falls or assaults by other inmates since July 27, 2001, according to the lawsuit. The death rate at Phillips is six times higher than the typical rate in the Georgia prison system, the lawsuit claims.

In the suit, the group claims the Corrections Department has allowed those deaths to occur through "chronic understaffing of correctional staff, deployment of untrained or undertrained correctional staff, and inadequate procedures for dealing with the special population of seriously mentally ill prisoners."

The Buford facility is one of three prisons that house the state's most mentally ill inmates. The Southern Center for Human Rights is seeking to get class-action status for more than 200 mentally ill inmates at Phillips State Prison.

The Georgia Department of Corrections does not comment on pending litigation, nor on the medical or mental condition of inmates, Chapman said.

- Staff writer Carlos Campos contributed to this article.