Family sues over Minnesota corrections officer's death

Family members of the Minnesota corrections officer killed by an inmate at the Stillwater prison in 2018 have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, saying the murder could have been prevented if the Department of Corrections had heeded warnings about staffing shortages and threats made by the inmate.

The lawsuit was filed days before the third anniversary of Joseph B. Gomm's death, and about two months after Minnesota lawmakers declined to approve a bill that would have dedicated $3 million to Gomm's estate. Gomm, the first Minnesota corrections officer killed on the job, was attacked by inmate Edward Muhammad Johnson while guarding inmates in a prison workshop. Johnson, who was serving time for murder, had two knives and a hammer; Gomm was unarmed other than with pepper spray and a radio, and was working alone because the prison was short-staffed.

Gomm's family is suing MINNCOR Industries, a division of the Minnesota Department of Corrections that operates the prison's workshop. The suit alleges that MINNCOR prioritized workshop production goals and had a "long-standing culture of disregard for the rights" of corrections officers — so much so that Gomm and other prison guards feared for their safety.

Corrections officers, it says, "were low priority compared to the high priority of making product and making profit along with other activities designed to earn a profit."

Among the assertions in the lawsuit: Corrections officers repeatedly complained that there were no security cameras in the workshop area and that understaffing would put prison guards at risk. Some officers at the prison had for years requested that Johnson be transferred to a higher-security facility because of repeated threats he'd made about harming corrections officers in Stillwater.

Minnesota Department of Corrections spokesman Nick Kimball said he couldn't comment on the case, but said his department is reviewing the lawsuit.

"This weekend we are focused on reflecting on the third anniversary of Officer Gomm's death and remembering and honoring his service to our state," he said.

After Gomm's death, Johnson pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

Gomm's family is seeking at least $50,000 from MINNCOR in compensation for Gomm's death.

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790