The state Department of Corrections wants a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the widow a slain corrections officer moved to federal court.

Lynette Johnson, widow of Ronald “R.J.” Johnson, filed suit against the DOC and several current and former employees of the penitentiary last week, claiming their actions put her husband’s life in immediate danger.

The DOC’s lawyer in the case, James Moore of Woods Fuller law firm in Sioux Falls, said each claim in Lynette Johnson’s lawsuit ought to be argued in federal court.

The first count against the DOC alleges that Ron Johnson’s constitutional due process rights were violated when the state put him in a dangerous situation with knowledge that his life would be in danger.

“It’s the DOC’s position that the federal court has jurisdiction in the matter,” Moore said.

A move to federal court would not significantly alter the process by which the lawsuit’s claims would be vetted or lengthen the proceedings, Moore said.

The lawsuit claims specifically the prison employers endangered Johnson and other employees by giving maximum-security inmates with histories of escape and violence to work in-house jobs with freedom of movement throughout the facility.

Inmates Rodney Berget and Eric Robert, working as laundry orderlies, beat Officer Johnson to death with a metal pipe and wrapped his head in plastic before hiding the body and using his uniform in an escape attempt on April 12, 2011.

Johnson was the only officer patrolling the Pheasantland Industries building on the day of the murder.

Both inmates had extensive histories of violence but were moved to high-medium security cells and given jobs because they were “having trouble adjusting” to life in the maximum security conditions at Jameson Annex, the lawsuit claims.

“The transfer of Berget and Robert to the West Hall put RJ at a significant risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm. This risk was compounded by the Department of Corrections’ lack of direct correctional staff supervision over Berget and Robert and contemporaneous decision to allow Berget and Robert to have jobs which afforded them access to the Prison Industries building, which contained various tools and other items that could be used to assault, injure or kill Correctional Officers,” the lawsuit says.

Berget and Robert both pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, then asked for and received death sentences. A third inmate, a former Pheasantland employee named Michael Nordman, was sentenced to an additional life sentence and was ordered to be held in segregation for providing Berget and Robert with the murder weapon and plastic wrap.

The penitentiary made nearly two dozen security changes as a result of the case. Improvements in lighting, additional officers for the Pheasantland building and restrictions on inmate access to certain areas of the prison grounds were among the changes.