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After violent prison deaths, a top state official is stepping down

David Guice
David Guice NC DPS

David Guice, a top North Carolina prisons leader who oversaw an extraordinarily deadly time for the state’s correctional officers, is stepping down from his post.

The Department of Public Safety announced Guice’s retirement at 5:37 p.m. Monday – 11 days after two prison employees were killed during a failed escape attempt.

Guice, 62, the state’s Chief Deputy Secretary for Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, has been in his current role since 2013. He will retire on Nov. 1, according to a DPS news release. A former state representative, Guice has worked in state government for 40 years.

For Guice and other prison leaders, it has been a tumultuous year.

In April, Sgt. Meggan Callahan was killed inside an Eastern North Carolina prison – allegedly by an inmate who beat her to death with a fire extinguisher. The prison was understaffed that month, the Observer found.

An Observer investigation, published in June, revealed that a hidden world of drugs, sex and gang violence thrives inside North Carolina’s prisons – and that officers who are paid to prevent such corruption are instead fueling it.

And on Oct. 12, chaos erupted inside the sewing plant at Pasquotank Correctional Institution after plant manager Veronica Darden and officer Justin Smith were killed there. Inmates stabbed employees with scissors and beat them with hammers, according to prison workers who called 911. Ten other prison workers were injured.

Four inmates have been charged with first-degree murder in the attacks. Three of them had already been serving time for murder and attempted murder. Some current and former prison officers questioned whether inmates with violent histories should have been put to work in a sewing plant, where they would have access to potentially lethal tools.

Following the attacks at Pasquotank, DPS Secretary Erik Hooks took several actions designed to make the prisons safer. He closed the prison’s sewing plant, asked for a review of all inmates assigned to work at such operations and requested an outside review of the prison’s safety operations.

Last week, Rep. Bob Steinburg told the Observer that he had heard from many officers who said they had no confidence in Guice and other prison leaders.

“Perhaps the problems start at the top,” said Steinburg, whose district includes Pasquotank County. “I know you can’t correct a situation without first looking at management and looking at the top, then looking at everything else.”

Guice oversaw a system made up of 37,000 inmates, 8,000 officers and 55 prisons. He earns $132,500 a year.

In an early 2016 interview for their series on prison corruption, Observer reporters asked Guice about prison employees who had sex with inmates, who sold them drugs and cellphones and who beat shackled prisoners.

Guice acknowledged many of the Observer's findings, and said his staff was working to address such problems.

In May, when asked about Callahan's death, Guice said:

“I have to tell you, my heart has been broken over the loss of this staff member. I just want to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

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