ATLANTA (AP) — A former high-ranking corrections officer at a southeast Georgia women’s prison used his position of power to prey on inmates, targeting their vulnerabilities and forcing them to have sex with him, according to investigators.
Over at least four years, Edgar Daniel Johnson groped and fondled women and forced some to have sex with him, according to sworn statements filed in warrant applications by an investigator for the Georgia Department of Corrections.
He faces criminal charges, and his lawyer said Johnson, 48, looks forward to defending himself.
“Mr. Johnson vehemently denies the allegations, and we look forward to having the opportunity to confront these charges in court,” attorney Kendall Gross said.
The Associated Press spoke to four of more than a dozen women who say Johnson victimized them while they were inmates at Emanuel Women’s Facility in Swainsboro. The AP generally does not name alleged victims of sexual crimes.
Johnson initially seemed like someone who cared, a comforting thing in a scary place, said one woman who was 25 and had never been in prison when she landed at Emanuel on charges related to an injury her son suffered while with her ex when the boy was supposed to be in her custody. Johnson said he was a pastor and recited passages from the Bible.
Then, she said, he started telling her how pretty she was, how a girl like her didn’t belong in prison. He asked about her family. He was a captain, so he could help her get to a transitional center closer to her children, he told her.
“He got a feel for your story to see what angle he could come at you with,” she said.
Her assigned work detail included cleaning his office, but she said he’d summon her more often than needed — up to five or six times a day — sometimes having an officer wake her from a nap to come see him. He’d give her tasks to keep her in the office or sometimes he’d just have her sit there, she said.
He quickly started making sexual comments and brushing up against her in a way that was too familiar, she said.
“You kind of just blocked it out, thinking: If I can just get out of his office without anything happening, I’ll be fine,” she said. “I guess after a while you just learn to deal with it.”
The comments and unwelcome touching continued for about 18 months. Then in April 2013, as she was about to be transferred to a transitional center closer to her family near Atlanta, he forced her to have sex with him five or six times, threatening to stop her transfer if she didn’t, she said.
Johnson continued to contact her for the first six months she was in the transitional center, saying he missed her and that he looked up her photo in her file every day, she said.
She never told anyone what was happening, but it was an open secret at the prison, she said. She was afraid of retaliation if she complained because he’d said repeatedly that he basically ran the place.
Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Rodriguez-Presley said the warden at the prison initiated an investigation immediately after she became aware of the allegations.
“We take very seriously allegations of this nature, which cause unjust risk and harm to the individuals we supervise as well as the safe operation of our facilities,” she wrote in an email.
The women in this case said Johnson forced them to have sex. But even consensual sex between an inmate and a prison employee is illegal.
Because inmates are vulnerable to sexual assault both by prison staff and other inmates, Congress in 2003 passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which calls for corrections systems to have a zero-tolerance policy on prison rape.
The Georgia Department of Corrections is actively implementing that law and expects to be fully compliant by August 2016, Rodriguez-Presley said.
When an investigator from the Department of Corrections came to see the woman at the transitional center in April, she initially told him nothing had happened. She didn’t trust him because he worked for the department.
Back in her room, she broke down in tears, finally deciding it was time to say something. She caught the investigator before he left and told him everything, she said.
The other women who spoke to the AP told similar stories, detailing how Johnson first told them he was a pastor and offered to use his influence to help them. Then came the comments, the touching and the forced sex, they said.
He identified their vulnerabilities to manipulate them, they said. One had a brother serving a life sentence at another Georgia prison and Johnson threatened to make his life miserable, she said. Another had had a baby while in the county lockup before being moved to prison, and she said he told her he’d keep her away from her baby and five other kids.
After being transferred to a higher-security prison in July 2012, a woman who said she had begun challenging Johnson wrote a complaint against him and gave it to the warden at her new prison. In it, she named several other women as victims.
Clay Nix, an inspector with the Department of Corrections’ office of professional standards, said one of his investigators has identified 13 women who say Johnson victimized them, and the investigation is ongoing. Once it’s done, the case will be turned over to the district attorney for presentation to a grand jury.
Johnson was fired in April and was arrested in May on multiple charges related to the investigation. He’s free on bond.
Nix declined to get into specifics of the investigation because it’s still active, but he said it was prompted by complaints from inmates who told very specific stories with many similarities and details no one else would know.
“It became quickly apparent the allegations were most likely true,” he said.
Once they began looking into Johnson, they discovered the 2012 complaint against him and evidence that it was thoroughly investigated but never presented to the district attorney, said Nix, who came to the department in August 2013. Bringing criminal charges can be very difficult when there’s no physical evidence and a case is based on inmate outcry alone, he said.
The women who say they were victimized by Johnson recall that he compared himself — going by his middle name — to the biblical Daniel in the lion’s den, saying he always comes out on top, no matter what he’s up against.
They use words like “ruined” and “broken” to describe how they feel as a result of his alleged actions. The four who spoke to the AP are all out of jail and said they have trouble trusting people, especially men, which makes finding a job or forming personal relationships difficult.
Walter Madison, a lawyer who represents six of the women, has helped them start an online fundraising campaign to pay for counseling and other expenses. He said they’re also considering civil litigation. They need to get back on their feet and feel confidence in themselves again, he said.
“We did a crime and we were sentenced, but nowhere did it say that we had to be his sex slaves,” said the first woman described above. “He took something from us that we can never get back.”