SD Supreme Court Rejects DOC Lawsuit

Jun 15, 2017

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the state Department of Corrections. DOC was sued by the widow of Ron Johnson, the corrections officer who was killed in 2011 by inmates trying to escape.

Lynette Johnson said penitentiary officials had advance notice that the two inmates presented an escape risk but moved them to a less secure facility anyway. Among other claims, Mrs. Johnson sued DOC for wrongful death and infliction of emotional distress.

During oral arguments earlier this year, Sioux Falls attorney James Moore pointed out that state law allowed Warden Douglas Weber to make placement decisions.

He told justices that the risk of escape was not based on recent information.

"The question you are left with, then, is how is it extreme and outrageous conduct to fail to discuss hunger strikes that occurred seven years before the murder, or two years before the murder, when those facts have been judicially determined to be irrelevant to liability for the murder of Ron Johnson?" Moore said.

Part of the lawsuit was dismissed by the Second Circuit Court. Allegations of civil rights violations were transferred to federal court, where they also were dismissed. Mrs. Johnson appealed the federal dismissal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, where it was upheld.

The inmates who murdered Ron Johnson were sentenced to death. Eric Robert was executed on Oct. 15, 2012, and Rodney Berget remains on death row, appealing his sentence.