7:33 p.m.: CORRECTS Judge Robert Mack
A licensed practical nurse says she was beaten in the head by a pretrial detainee while distributing medications in the women’s area of the Clayton County Jail—and that a corrections officer at her side did nothing to intervene.
Assonda Paul, who said she was later diagnosed with a concussion, told The Clayton Crescent that no one had treated her at the infirmary nor had anyone called an ambulance to transport her to the hospital.
The incident happened on or about April 11, according to Paul and Clayton County online court records—one week before the special election runoff for Clayton County Sheriff.
CCSO did not issue a press release about the incident. Paul said the attack happened sometime between 10 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. that day.
The detainee who Paul alleges attacked her, Lavender Gresham, 23, was charged on April 11 with riot in a penal institution and battery or physical contact of a provoking nature, according to jail records. (Court records show the battery charge as battery on school personnel.) Gresham was in jail on charges of burglary, second-degree criminal damage, criminal trespass, and VGCSA possession, sale, manufacturing, or distribution of marijuana. She has been granted a total of $37,000 in bond and $5,200 in fees on all charges, according to online jail records. Her next court date is set for May 4 at 8 a.m. in room 401 before Superior Court Judge Robert Mack.
According to two warrants filed for Gresham by CCSO’s Timothy Taylor, the probable cause read: “Assonda Paul said she was passing out medicine to Inmate Lavender Gresham. Lavender Gresham’s cell door was open due to the trap not opening properly. Assonda Paul said Lavender Gresham was handed her medication and Lavender Gresham threw the medication back at her and began striking her in the face with her fist.”
The warrant description for misdemeanor battery of a provoking nature alleged, “Lavender Gresham punched Assonda Paul on the left side of her face with a closed fist causing swelling to her face.”
The warrant description for felony riot in a penal institution alleged Gresham “knowingly and intentionally punch[ed] Assonda Paul in the face with a closed fist. No person legally confined to a penal institution shall commit an unlawful act of violence or any other act in a violent and tumultuous manner in a penal institution.”
Paul, who has worked in corrections facilities all over metro Atlanta and Georgia for the past 15 years, says she says she won’t go back to any correctional facility after what happened at the Clayton County Jail.
“What just happened?”
“I was doing my medication pass on, it’s called Housing Unit Three, that’s where they keep some of the female inmates,” Paul said. “I was pretty much towards the end and I was in Section 1, what they call Admin, which is usually like, medically frail, or mentally acutely unstable, or it could be disciplinary. And generally, those doors—they’re sliding doors—so, I was on the bottom tier. I had done Room 1, Room 2, and then because both of those rooms are, what do you call them, trap doors, they open, at the third room, the trap door was stuck.
“So the officer in the tower has to electronically open it, open the door, it’s a sliding door, so doing that, if the inmate can get out, I’ve possibly seen and it’s always been done in the past, allow the door to be open slightly, you know, just a few inches so I can pass the med to the patient.
“But this particular time, the officer was standing next to my med cart, and I recall I gave the inmate the medication, and then she tossed it back at me. And she either said, ‘Those aren’t my f___ing meds,’ or ‘I don’t want those f___ing meds,’ and then tossed them at me, and then I started to get plowed in the head, punched in the head.
“And I didn’t really realize what was happening, ’cause I’ve been in corrections since 2008 and I’ve never had any physical encounter with any inmate. And so, it happened, and you know, I instinctively, after I got my bearing, I retaliated, and I go for her, and she retreats back to her room.
“And I believe at that point, the officer either says ‘Im’a Tase you,’ or spray you, but nothing was deployed or nothing was taken out of her pocket as far as I recall.
“The officer closed the door, the door was closed, I don’t remember what happened, and I was kind of ushered out of that section and she said, ‘Just go tell your supervisor,’ you know, ‘you don’t have to complete this med task, you know, just go to your supervisor.’
“And as we were exiting, I know her immediate supervisor, a sergeant, came on the floor and she was like, ‘What just happened?’ She was like, ‘One of the inmates just attacked a nurse.’ And I remember her saying, ‘So you didn’t do anything? You didn’t call it on the radio?’ And she was like, ‘Oh, it just happened, I don’t know,’ da da da, ‘I don’t know.’
“I went to my immediate supervisor on the medical side and I was taken to Internal Affairs,” she sighed. “They took my statement, and during that time, somebody brought the Internal Affairs officer, I think his name was Brock—a lieutenant, I do believe he’s a lieutenant—the video, and him and I watched it together. And I just saw the officer just stand there. And I don’t know if she was panicked, or in shock, or deer-in-the-headlight type thing, nothing was done to assist me while I was being punched in the head. I remember the lieutenant distinctly yelled, ‘What the f___? Like, what is she doing?” It’s like, ‘Nothing.’ It was just one of the craziest experiences.
Paul was not given any paperwork, like an incident report, the day of the assault.
“I just had the name of the investigator, they gave me a Post-It and the name of the Internal Affairs,” she said.
On Tuesday afternoon, The Clayton Crescent tried to contact Inv. T. Taylor, whose name and number were on the Post-It, but a recording said that person’s voicemail had not yet been set up.
The CCSO public information officer’s number, which used to work, does not connect when dialed.
Paul said she believes the officer who stood by as she was attacked was named C. Jackson. “I don’t know if she was new, but I know she hadn’t been there for a long time. Anywhere from a year or less, I believe.”
No one from CCSO, One Call, or Correct Health rendered her any medical assistance, she said, and no one called 911 to request that Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services transport her to a hospital.
Neither One Call nor Correct Health had responded to requests for comment by press time Tuesday. As of Tuesday evening, County Attorney Charles Reed had not responded to an e-mail sent Monday, asking whether he were familiar with the incident.
Paying the medical bills
The day after the attack, Paul said, she went to an urgent care clinic: “They assessed it as a concussion and wanted me to go and get a screening, like a CT scan or something.”
And her insurance is paying for it, she said.
Although she worked for a private company, Paul was issued an ID badge, with the Clayton County Board of Commissioners seal and an employee ID number. That ID, issued on January 18, 2022, did indicate that she was a contractor, which means she is not on the Clayton County’s workman’s compensation coverage.
“Nobody reached out to me at all, except I’m a contractor, so the contracting company had reached out, and I think two days later, they set up workman’s comp. I work for On Call, and I am a contractor with Correct Health.”
Asked whether any nurses at the jail worked directly for Correct Health, which holds the contract with the county to provide medical services, she said, “I would say a handful. I know most medical assistants do, and a majority of the nurses are contract.” She says she’s heard that On Call nurses average $12-$15 an hour more than Correct Health.
Paul has worked at the Dekalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett County Jails, Metro Transitional Center, and Bullock Correctional Facility in Alabama, and done related work for correctional facilities in Massachusetts.
“That whole environment and the setting at Clayton is just very, it’s almost like it’s flippant and casual attitude towards everything, like in the time I’ve been there,” Paul said, which has been “on and off since September 2021.”
She says she’s never been through “even a simulation of being attacked. I mean, this has never happened to me, and it was just kind of so unexpected. And your guard is down, because it’s something I’ve been doing for so long, and the expectation that if something was going to happen to me or if I’m going to get physically attacked, that, you know, the officer would deploy a Taser or pepper spray, or physically stop the assault, but none of that happened.”
As of press time, Paul said, she had not heard from Sheriff Levon Allen or anyone else with the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office.
“I haven’t heard from anybody on the jail side or the medical side. Only the DON [Director of Nursing Brown] because she was the only person at the tine to escort me to the jail side administration to give my report.”
Health hazards throughout jail
She described substandard conditions at the jail.
“I’ve seen inmates being ravaged by—I think an inmate at Fulton County just died from that, from bedbugs,” she said. “Hair, women’s heads are being completely shaved off because they’re so infested. That’s like a whole infrastructure problem with running water in a lot of the housing units. So with that, there’s also an infestation of fruit flies. I remember on one of my med passes, there was a, I think it was a mental health patient [where] the white wall was literally almost completely dotted with black there were so many bugs, and just bugs on their hair, and their ears, like, I’ve just gotta get this patient out of this room because there’s like a lot of sitting water in a lot of the units.
“And I didn’t even realize the building is a very, relatively newer building,” she continued. “I thought the facade looks great. But inside a lot of the housing units, it looks like it was built in 1940s. Everything’s rusted and running water. Water dripping on your head.
Testing the locks
“What I’ve noticed is that they’re fixing doors, ’cause that’s a big issue,” Paul said. “The doors are not locking on the units. That’s why there’s been a lot of inmates being assaulted by other inmates. And I know on Housing Unit 3, the females in Section 6, they closed off that unit ’cause they’re testing new door locks before they invest—that’s what I’m just hearing as a layperson who doesn’t have anything to do with projects and what they’re doing. But that’s what I’ve heard, that they’re testing to see if these locks are gonna be a good investment, I guess, on Housing Unit 3, Section 6. So they moved all those females to the dorms. But that’s a major, major, major thing, like doors not locking. That’s why so many inmates are being injured.”
Paul had only worked the men’s side once, she said, “and that’s where, I think it was Housing Unit 1, that’s where the water was dripping on my head.”
She also confirmed previous reports that most of the toilets in the jail were essentially unusable.
“That’s another thing. Especially with women, what we go through monthly,” she said. “Like the toilets…a lot of the toilets are not running. They’re literally using a [plastic] bag to defecate, urinate, and whatever else….I can only assume the inmate workers probably go and empty them out. But you know, it reeks.”
Asked if, in her opinion as a health care professional, conditions at the jail posed a health hazard, Paul stated, “Of course.”
And she says she wishes she had spoken out sooner.
“I deeply regret—because I’ve always said, you know, somebody needs to report all of this, and I’m ashamed that I became a victim to be able to speak out about this. It’s no condition… like a lot of these people, they made bad decisions. A lot of these people need to be under the jail, like there is some very vicious crimes. But so many of these people, and especially the mental health units, you know… these people don’t deserve what I’m seeing. They don’t deserve this treatment. It’s for animals.”
Paul said she hadn’t heard of too many women using shanks, but “it’s essentially what it is. I spoke to a lieutenant who reached out, who is not involved in this issue at all, apologizing to me on behalf of Clayton County. He said the officers and the inmates are not safe in that environment and he’s so happy I’m out of there.”
Who’s watching out for the nurses?
“When I started working the med pass, I had literally just left the infirmary, and I think that’s one of the biggest things in the infirmary. The shift starts at 6 p.m., or my shift started at 6 p.m., and you could literally be there four, five, six hours before you have an officer that’s able to escort you to do your medical rounds—a CO or a deputy.”
Asked whether a deputy was supposed to be on duty in the infirmary at all times for the medical staff’s protection, Paul said, “Well, that’s interchangeable, a CO or a deputy, because oftentime, you might have what they call a specialist. They don’t have any inmate contact. They just kind of like document the comings and goings, who’s in the unit or ‘pop the doors,’ quote unquote, operate the digital computer thing to open and close the doors. Or you might have a CO in there. But if there’s nobody else, he can’t leave you in the infirmary in the tower by yourself. There has to be at least two officers. Somebody has to sit and operate the door, and somebody has to escort the nurse or medical staff. Sometimes if it’s just one [officer], it’s not doable.”
She added, “There’ll always be somebody in there, but there has to be two people. Like you can have one specialist, but there has to be an officer to escort you. So there’ll be a specialist, but then an officer or even a specialist might not get relieved, because there’s not enough staff for hours. Like that officer could be getting off of work at 6 o’clock, and it’s 8 o’clock and there still hasn’t been somebody there to relieve them. You understand? And there just has to be two. Even if it’s one deputy or one CO, he can’t escort you, because somebody still has to operate the doors when he’s on the unit with the nurse doing the rounds.”
Paul said an inmate allegedly had been murdered last summer while using the toilet. “Yeah. That happened in the infirmary….That was a murder. This guy was murdered by his roommate.” She could not recall the date or the man’s name.
So what happens if an inmate has a medical emergency and the nurse needs to get to that patient stat?
“We can’t,” Paul said. “I’ve literally seen where it might be the specialist or the officer putting on the radio, ‘Medical rounds needed to be done, still waiting on additional staff to assist in med pass or med rounds,’ you know. It happens quite frequently, in my experience.
“For a short time, it was supposed to always be two jail staff members, either a specialist and a CO, or two COs, or two deputies, but it was mandatory, and that lasted all of two weeks, where they would say, ‘It has to be two.’ If there’s an officer assigned, they can’t go anywhere else. They can’t escort any inmate, they can’t go to intake, they can’t go to the main clinic. That lasted all of two weeks. And then it’s like, they’re so short, because we understand how fragile working in the infirmary is, and the dynamics can change in any moment, because a lit of these inmates are medically fragile or mentally fragile, so when you just don’t have the body, all they can do is put it over the radio that assistance is needed. And as far as the medical side, they said, ‘Well, if you don’t get anybody, put in an interruption of service.’ But in terms of the [situation], that’s not gonna help at that moment.”
“It’s a systemic problem. It’s not one person, it’s not one nurse, it’s not one officer,” Paul said. “It’s systemic. I don’t know if it’s wages, or if it’s just the general work environment, I don’t know what these officers are told in roll call, if they’re coming on board to start a new job, new career, what makes people don’t stay. And I think across the board in a lot of these settings, too, they’re having a lot of shortcomings in staff, so I don’t know how to fix it but it’s a big problem….You’re making your only incentive, oh! Unlimited overtime! But then you burn out.”
“I can’t even”
Because her contract was about to end a few days after the attack on April 17, Paul said, she turned in her badge to the director of nursing.
“And she insisted I take it back, just, you know, to think about it, but I’m just continuing on making money elsewhere,” she said. “Just the thought of walking into a housing unit, it just—the anxiety, it’s ridiculous. I can’t even. Not in that setting.”
Instead, she says, “I’m doing hospice, going to people’s homes.”
“Honestly, I just think the whole environment there, as a whole, needs a culture change. Better training for the officers, more officers, longer training for the officers, just a culture change. They just need to understand…it’s such a big undertaking and I just can’t say enough to how much it’s not taken seriously. That’s just how I see it. It’s just like, the attitude. It’s a very serious and dangerous job and just wish that these officers would understand that.”
Not an isolated case
In 2016, Alicia Butler, a Georgia State Prison nurse with 12 years’ experience was assaulted by Carlos Johnson, Jr., a serial rapist, while she was alone in the infirmary and one guard—not the five required—stood on the first floor. That nurse sued the prison and other state agencies for negligence because they had failed to provide security .
But the U.S. Southern District of Georgia and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found against Butler and in favor of Georgia Correctional Healthcare, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Georgia State Prison, The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, The Georgia Department of Corrections, Marty Allen, Stanley Williams, and Timothy Ward. Georgia law lists assault and battery as one of the things for which public officials and agencies can’t be sued under the concept of “sovereign immunity.”
Georgia Department of Corrections records show Johnson is serving life in prison, and that he got 20 years for aggravated assault, 10 years for false imprisonment, and 12 months for a miscellaneous misdemeanor in the June 5, 2016 attack on Butler.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Danny Robbins pointed out that Butler’s attack and others like it indicated a serious threat to contract medical staff working in Georgia jails and prisons.
Similar attacks have happened around the United States. In many cases, those attacks happened when jails or prisons were short-staffed. Nurses also are attacked in the hospitals where they work. The American Nursing Association says one in every four nurses is attacked on the job.
The Georgia Nurses Association 2023-24 legislative platform notes, “The safety and well-being of Georgia’s healthcare professionals is paramount to our success. Our state must be committed to providing a safe environment free of violence for those working.”