One was in prison for shooting a state trooper in the face. Another had repeatedly stabbed an Army sergeant’s wife with a kitchen knife. A third was incarcerated for shooting a co-worker to death behind a west Charlotte gas station.
Those were among the four North Carolina inmates who have been charged with first-degree murder in recent attacks that killed prison employees Veronica Darden and Justin Smith at Pasquotank Correctional Institution. The assaults also injured 10 other employees, including two who, according to sources, remain in critical condition.
Law enforcement authorities, who announced the charges Friday, say the inmates were working inside the prison’s sewing plant on Oct. 12 when they carried out the failed escape plan.
Inmates at the eastern North Carolina prison beat employees with hammers and stabbed them with scissors, according to prison workers who called 911. It was the deadliest escape attempt in North Carolina prison history.
“As a career law enforcement professional, I am outraged that someone who was convicted of attempting to murder a North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper, as well as the other inmates who also were convicted of violent attacks, were allowed to work in an environment where they had access to tools that could be used as weapons,” N.C. Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks said in a statement Friday.
Here’s who was charged:
▪ Wisezah Buckman, 29.
He is serving a 32-year sentence for a 2014 murder in Charlotte. Buckman – who previously worked as a page for the N.C. legislature and governor – pleaded guilty to a June 2014 shooting spree that left one of his co-workers dead and another wounded.
In prison, he had been cited for three infractions prior to Oct. 12.
▪ Jonathan Monk, 30.
Monk is a former Fort Bragg soldier doing time for attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Police say he broke into the Fayetteville home of a superior officer in 2011, grabbed a large kitchen knife and slashed and stabbed the officer’s wife 15 times.
He had apparently been well behaved in prison. He had no disciplinary infractions, state records show.
▪ Mikel Brady, 28.
He was convicted of shooting a state trooper in the face during a 2013 traffic stop. After pleading guilty to attempted murder, he was sentenced to a maximum of 24 years in prison
He had no prison infractions.
▪ Seth Frazier, 33.
He is serving a seven-year sentence for first-degree burglary. He was due to be released next year.
In prison, he has been cited for nine infractions.
More charges may be announced on Oct. 30, when a grand jury meets, Pasquotank County Sheriff Randy Cartwright said at a Friday morning press conference. The investigation could lead to charges against additional inmates, authorities said.
Buckman and Monk have been transferred to a high-security unit at Polk Correctional Institution, north of Durham. Brady and Frazier has been transferred to a similar unit at Central Prison in Raleigh.
According to state prison leaders, inmates first set a fire in Pasquotank’s sewing plant, where prisoners produce items such as embroidered logos and safety vests for government agencies and non-profits.
A rapid response from area law enforcement authorities and emergency workers helped prison officials gain quick control of Pasquotank Correctional, Cartwright said.
“It could have been a lot worse,” the sheriff said.
Some current and former prison officers questioned whether the inmates with violent histories should have been put to work in a sewing plant, where they would have access to scissors.
“These programs should be for people trying to get out and go home,” said one former Pasquotank officer, who asked not to be named.
Pasquotank Correctional also has a minimum-custody unit, designed for inmates who pose the least risk to public safety. But all of those charged in the Oct. 12 attacks were maximum-security inmates.
Hooks, the public safety chief, announced Friday that he would take several actions to keep violent inmates away from dangerous tools.
Will reforms follow?
It has been a deadly year for the state’s prison officers.
At Bertie Correctional Institution, about 60 miles to the southwest of Pasquotank, prison Sgt. Meggan Callahan was killed in April. Authorities say an inmate there set a fire in a trash can, then beat Callahan with the fire extinguisher that she had brought to douse the flames.
This week, GOP Rep. Bob Steinburg of Edenton called on lawmakers to investigate problems within the prison system. Steinburg said he hopes legislators form a review commission that would look at everything from how the prisons are managed to how officers are trained, paid and kept safe.
“There could be modest reforms and tweaks to correct the system to massive reforms,” he said.
Steinburg said he hoped the commission begins work before legislators return to Raleigh in January. And he hoped that the commission is given subpoena power – a tool that could ensure lawmakers receive information from prison workers who may be reluctant to talk.
The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, a non-profit group, announced Thursday that it supports Steinburg’s efforts in “delving deeply into what is clearly a broken system,” said Randy Byrd, a division president of the association.
“The time is now to address these issues before we have another death,” Byrd said in a statement.
Other North Carolina prison incidents
Gavin Off: 704-358-6038