SC Officer Shot 6 Times Vows to Keep Fighting Inmates' Cell Phone Use - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

SC Officer Shot 6 Times Vows to Keep Fighting Inmates' Cell Phone Use

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Bishopville, S.C. -

Just because a hardened criminal is behind bars doesn't mean he can't keep committing crimes, or get to you. Just ask Robert Johnson.

He was the captain in charge of finding contraband at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina, and he was apparently too good at his job. It's illegal for inmates to have cell phones, but it's one of the biggest problems in prisons in South Carolina and worldwide. Johnson says an inmate used an illegal cell phone to order a hit on him.

In March 2010, Johnson was getting ready for work one morning when a man kicked open his front door. "He shot me six times at almost point-blank range with a .38," Johnson says. The doctors who were working to save his life had his wife come into the operating room so she could tell him good-bye.

"Come to find out, they said I bled out three times," he says. "They used 63 units of blood on me, because I mean my liver was damaged, my diaphragm, my lungs were severely damaged. I had multiple wounds to my intestines. Everything in there--my heart--everything was just damaged and they had a time trying to stop the blood. They just couldn't stop the bleeding."

But he rallied after his wife kissed his head and prayed over him. He was still in a coma for two weeks and doctors still weren't sure he would survive. More than three years later, he's still facing more surgeries and needs a cane to help him walk.

He had to retire from the Department of Corrections, but he's not stopping his fight against cell phones in prison. He filed a lawsuit against a long list of cell phone companies. "Our contention is that they could have controlled the signals coming from the prison and just cut them off," he says.

But a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the companies had no state law requiring them to block signals coming out of prisons and that, even if there were such a law, it couldn't be enforced because federal law would take precedence. The Federal Communications Commission prohibits any jamming of wireless signals.

Some members of Congress have been trying to change that federal law to allow prisons to install jamming devices, but they have not been successful. That's despite the fact that the FBI reports that inmates nationwide continue to carry out crimes like fraud, intimidating witnesses and gang activity by using illegal cell phones. In an Arizona case, three inmates used a cell phone to set up an escape. While they were out, they murdered a couple that was on vacation.

But the FCC is concerned that jamming cell phone signals coming out of prisons would interfere with the cell signals of people who live near prisons or are traveling nearby, or that they would at least prevent legitimate cell phone signals within a prison during an emergency.

Johnson says he'll appeal the dismissal of his lawsuit after the man accused of shooting him is tried. Because he hasn't gone to court yet, Johnson has no proof that an inmate used a cell phone to put a hit on him. Once he has that proof from the criminal trial, he'll see if that helps his civil case.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Corrections says it's doing all it can to keep illegal cell phones from getting into prisons, and finding and confiscating as many as possible of those that do get in.

Spokesman Clark Newsom says, "We have bought some new equipment that is doing a better job of screening. And of course we think we are doing the types of things on a daily basis that you need to do, with shakedowns of prisoners, checking their cells and whatnot. But even despite all that, that problem continues to be a thorn in our side."

Last year, the department confiscated more than 3,000 cell phones.



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