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Attack on SC prison guard renews phone-jam debate

Sep 13, 2010 4:02:00 PM - thestate.com
South Carolina authorities who have helped push for permission to block cell phone signals inside prisons say an officer in charge of keeping out contraband was nearly killed at his home - in an attack planned with a smuggled phone.

Corrections Department Capt. Robert Johnson was getting ready to go to work at Lee Correctional Institution about 50 miles east of Columbia one day last March. Around 5:30 a.m., a man broke down the front door of Johnson's mobile home, shooting the 15-year prison veteran six times in the chest and stomach.

"I heard a yell, 'Police!'" said Johnson, 57, who believes the intruder may have been impersonating an officer. "I came out the bathroom door, and there was this person there. I really don't remember the rest. From the trauma, my mind just went blank."

Six months into his recovery, Johnson and his bosses want Congress to change a 1934 law that says the Federal Communications Commission can grant permission to jam the public airwaves only to federal agencies, not state or local ones.

The cell phone industry says the jamming methods some states want can interfere with emergency communications and legitimate cell phone use in the area. They advocate other, potentially more expensive technology that they say can be more precise but has seen only limited use.