One inmate says officers at Lumberton Correctional Institution repeatedly beat him last year as he lay handcuffed on the floor of an office known as the “boom-boom room.” The prison’s former superintendent ordered the beating, he said.
Another former prisoner says he was naked in a shower when an officer sprayed him in the groin with pepper spray.
A third inmate shared copies of letters he wrote to top state prison officials, complaining about assaults by officers at Lumberton.
Asked about reports of beatings in the “boom-boom room,” former prison superintendent Brad Perritt said, “I know no such room.”
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Perritt refused to comment further. In January, the 21-year prison system veteran was appointed to a new job – administrator of Tabor Correctional Institution in Tabor City.
A state prison spokesman said there’s no evidence that prison managers ordered officers to assault inmates. But the prison system’s regional office “continues to review and closely monitor” use-of-force incidents at Lumberton, the spokesman said.
On May 24, the Observer published a story about Morlai Sesay, a 65-year-old state prison inmate who says he was handcuffed and posed no threat to officers at Lumberton when they assaulted him so badly that he had to be hospitalized for four days.
In the five weeks since then, the newspaper has heard from six more inmates and two former staff members who described beatings at the medium security prison south of Fayetteville. The inmates and former employees said a number of those assaults occurred in the “boom-boom room,” a spot unmonitored by video cameras where they said officers routinely beat prisoners.
The superintendent … gave his officers a direct order to beat me, which they did …
Inmate Randy Massey, describing a beating that he said he suffered at the hands of officers at Lumberton Correctional Institution
Several inmates called or wrote to the Observer. The newspaper contacted others who had reportedly been assaulted.
‘My head was swollen’
Inmate Randy Massey said that his problems began when he struck an officer in the face. After that March 11, 2015 incident, he was handcuffed behind his back and escorted to meet with the prison’s superintendent and other staff, he wrote in a letter to the Observer.
Massey, 53, said he admitted to the superintendent that he had assaulted the officer. Then, he said, the superintendent began yelling at him and “gave his officers a direct order to beat me, which they did.”
He said five officers then assaulted him for several minutes inside the “boom-boom room,” while he lay handcuffed on the floor.
Massey said the beating left him with a bruised groin, a cut near his eye and several other injuries.
“My mouth was split, and I lost a tooth, my head was swollen having several nocks (sic) and lumps upon it, which causes me real bad headaches,” wrote Massey, who is serving a 62-year sentence for statutory rape.
Perritt would not address Massey’s allegations.
Massey said he got no medical attention until the following day, when he was seen by a prison nurse and then sent to a hospital emergency room.
When he arrived at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton, he complained of back and chest pain, hospital records obtained by the Observer show. The records also state that Massey had been struck in the head and had a wound over his right eye after an altercation. He was prescribed medications for pain and discharged after about four hours.
I have had several officers tell me out of their own mouths, ‘(The superintendent) gave officers the green light to beat the hell out of you inmates.’ And that’s just what has been happening.
Inmate Michael Cook, in a letter to Frank Perry, secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety
State prison officials dispute Massey’s account. Prison spokeswoman Pam Walker said that after Massey assaulted the first officer, he attempted to assault a second. “Correctional staff appropriately restrained the inmate per policy,” Walker wrote.
Spokesman Keith Acree said managers from the prison system’s regional office reviewed the case “and no evidence was found that anyone ordered a beating of inmate Massey.”
Two former employees at Lumberton, speaking to the Observer on condition of anonymity because they fear retaliation, corroborated Massey’s account that officers badly beat him while he was in handcuffs. One of them said that the prison superintendent stood just outside the room, making sure no one else entered as Massey was beaten.
The former employee said the prison’s assistant superintendent, James McRae, was in the room while the beating took place. McRae refused to comment, referring a reporter to a prison spokeswoman.
If Massey’s account is true, the beating appears to violate state prison policy, which states that “an officer shall not strike or attempt to strike an inmate who has abandoned his/her resistance or who is effectively restrained.”
Soon after the incident, the two former prison employees said, the windows of the “boom-boom room” were painted so that inmates and officers could no longer see inside.
The former employees said the office served as an intake room, where prisoners are strip-searched for contraband. Acree said the room’s windows were covered to prevent others from seeing unclothed inmates.
State reviewing incidents
Another former inmate, who asked not to be identified, said staff members pepper-sprayed him one day in 2014 after he got into an argument with a psychologist. At the time, he said, he was handcuffed and posed no threat to officers.
He was then taken to a shower, where, he said, an officer sprayed the burning chemical on him again, this time on the groin. He was naked at the time, he said.
Acree said prison officials couldn’t look into the inmate’s claims without a name. But a former prison employee corroborated the inmate’s account.
Under state policy, correctional officers may use pepper spray to deter “violent, threatening or aggressive” inmates or to defend against an assault. The substance is supposed to be sprayed “directly into the eyes.”
Inmate Michael O. Cook shared copies of letters that he sent to state Director of Prisons George Solomon and state Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry earlier this year. In those letters, he complained about assaults by officers. He also said he had heard that superintendent Brad Perritt gave approval to officers to beat prisoners.
“I have had several officers tell me out of their own mouths, ‘Mr. Perritt gave officers the green light to beat the hell out of you inmates.’ And that’s just what has been happening,” Cook wrote in a letter to Perry.
Acree said “no evidence has been found to indicate that any management approved or ordered inmates to be assaulted.”
A plea penned in blood
In the weeks since publishing the story about the reported beating of inmate Sesay, the Observer heard from fellow inmates who said Sesay did not shove a female sergeant into a wall – contrary to what state prison officials said.
One inmate, who asked not to be identified, said he saw Sesay curled up in the corner of a prison cell, unable to walk after the Feb. 21 beating.
On the wall, the inmate said, Sesay had used his own blood to scrawl a plea: “Jesus help.”