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Lawsuits allege attacks by prison dogs

(AP) Two men who say they were viciously attacked by prison security dogs have filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the Virginia Department of Corrections, alleging the agency violated protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Curtis J. Garrett, 29, a former inmate at the Sussex II State Prison and Corey E. Johnson, 51, a current inmate at Red Onion State Prison filed lawsuits this month in U.S. District Court in Richmond and Roanoke.

The two alleged that they were obeying orders from corrections officers when the canines were let loose on them, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The lawsuits also said the practice of using canines on inmates is “systemic” in state prisons and “has led to severe physical and psychological injuries.”

Garrett argued that a 2018 attack caused him to suffer permanent injuries, including nerve damage and the inability to use his left hand, in addition to mental health effects requiring psychiatric hospitalization. His suit alleged that the dogs were unleashed on him after he returned to his cell following an altercation with another inmate.

A dog’s attack in May 2020 left Johnson requiring more than 20 stitches on his right hand and arm, according to his lawsuit. Johnson said he was lying facedown with his arms extended outward after a fight with another inmate when a handler released a dog onto him.

The handler alleged he let the dog loose after Johnson approached another officer in a threatening manner, but Johnson denied the accusation.

Several Department of Corrections employees and officials were named as defendants in the suits. The lawsuits seek unspecified damages and a court-ordered end to prison policies allowing the use of canine attacks on inmates.

The Virginia Department of Corrections declined to comment on either lawsuit, the Times-Dispatch said.

Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Kinney told the newspaper that the department works with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to certify canine teams. Department of Corrections policy requires officers to immediately report dog bites and to quickly administer medical care to those bitten.

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