Brenda: Federal prosecutors say a two-year investigation has now unraveled a statewide conspiracy within Georgia’s prisons. This investigation spanned a total of 11 different facilities, and yielded more than 130 indictments. Dozens of corrections workers are accused of using their law enforcement status to protect purported meth and cocaine deals, in exchange for cash bribes. Others are, though, accused of smuggling contraband, including cell phones to prisoners. To date, some 63 guards have been charged, but despite such overwhelming evidence, the prosecution may have its work cut out for it.
So, joining me now to talk more about that is our crusty, trusty criminal defense…
Brenda: Not crusty.
Page: Not yet.
Brenda: … criminal defense attorney, Page Pate. Always good to talk to you, and I know this is right in your wheelhouse, because you’ve done criminal defense on the federal levels. So, why do you say that this case is not as locked-up as the feds would have you believe?
Page: Well, it’s always easy for the U.S. attorney to stand there and give this great press conference, “These are our allegations. Let’s assume all of this is true,” but we haven’t seen the evidence yet, and whenever you have a sting operation, when you have undercover officers trying to tempt people to take money, to do something illegal, there’s always the potential for an entrapment defense. And then when we’re talking about smuggling contraband into the prison, they’re gonna have to rely, perhaps, on the testimony of inmates, and they have questionable credibility, and other people who have been charged, who are trying to work off their own cases, so it’s not as clear cut as they make it out.
Brenda: Sixty-some officers involved in this. You’re saying, “Not a slam dunk,”, but listen to this Corrections Commissioner, Homer Bryson, admitted that some of the guards were likely not vetted enough, not properly screened when they were hired. Take a listen.
Bryson: We’re not able to do a thorough enough background investigation, because we’re having to hire people at such low salaries that it’s difficult for us to fill those vacancies.
Brenda: All right. So, how does that factor in. He’s talking about low salaries, difficult to fill vacancies, how does that factor into this?
Page: Well, what he’s saying is absolutely true, and I think there’s a huge vacancy rate right now. I mean, it’s a tough job, and they don’t get much money for it. But, for them to use this as a way to get better funding on the state Department of Corrections, I’m not sure if that’s their pitch, or they’ve already assumed these folks are guilty. I do believe that we need to spend more money to hire, train experienced guards. We’re not putting the money there now, and perhaps this shows that’s a necessity.
Brenda: Certainly, no one’s been convicted just yet. You say it’s gonna be a hard case, not a slam dunk, but it’s probably fair to say that there are problems, systemic problems, in this system. How does the state of Georgia fix the alleged culture or corruption, if you will, that seems to be permeating the entire system top to bottom?
Page: Well, cell phones have been a problem for a long time. I mean, I get calls from clients who are in prison on contraband cell phones. I mean, they’re out there. They’ve been out there for a long time, and it’s not easy to walk a cell phone into a prison. When I go on a prison visit, I’m getting searched up and down. They’re looking into my briefcase, so we know that the guards have been helping get contraband into the prison facilities, but perhaps that can be handled on the administrative level. Let the Department of Corrections deal with that, and not prosecute them criminally.
Brenda: All right, always good to talk to you. You’re not crusty at all.
Page: Well, thank you. Not yet.
Brenda: Just a terrific criminal defense attorney and we love to talk to you.
Page: Thanks, Brenda.
Page: Come by and see us any time. We’ll be calling you.
All right. You can read more about the accusations against dozens of Georgia corrections officers on our website, 11alive.com. We have posted a link for you of the facilities involved in this latest round of indictments, plus a photo gallery of those arrested.