CHARLESTON — A federal judge has dismissed a former South Carolina prison officer’s lawsuit accusing cellphone companies of opting not to block inmates’ outgoing phone calls – including the call organizing a hit on his life.
U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie dismissed the lawsuit by Robert Johnson, who was a captain at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported on Monday.
Johnson, 59, was shot six times and wounded at his home in Sumter in 2010 in an attack that prosecutors say was orchestrated by inmates using illegal cellphones in prison. Johnson, a 15-year veteran of the Corrections Department, had overseen efforts to keep contraband out of Lee.
Authorities have said Johnson was the first U.S. corrections officer harmed by a hit ordered from an inmate’s cellphone. South Carolina has been seeking federal permission to jam cellular signals at state prisons, but the request has stalled before the Federal Communications Commission, which has said a 1934 law allows only federal agencies to jam public airwaves.
Cellphone companies had argued that the jamming methods suggested by South Carolina and other states could interfere with emergency communications and other legal cellphone use.
The Johnsons had sued 20 cellphone companies and cellular tower owners. The Johnsons will ask the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the lawsuit, according to the couple’s attorney, Robert Parker.
Cellphone providers could jam cellphone use by inmates without interfering with other communications systems, Parker said.
One man, Sean Echols, is awaiting trial on charges of using a gun during a violent crime and conspiring to murder a prison guard. U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles says Echols took on the task in exchange for $6,000. The inmate authorities say conspired with Echols has not been named.