Three NC officials moved from jobs after fatal prison attacks and scathing federal report

A flag at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City flies at half-staff shortly after the deadly October escape attempt.
A flag at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City flies at half-staff shortly after the deadly October escape attempt.

Three North Carolina officials have been moved from their jobs following the fatal attacks on four employees at an eastern North Carolina prison.

The two top administrators at Pasquotank Correctional Institution – Administrator Felix Taylor and Colbert Respass, the assistant superintendent of operations – were placed on paid leave Monday, a state Department of Public Safety spokesman said. They will remain on leave pending an internal investigation.

Karen Brown, who has served as director of Correction Enterprises, was also temporarily reassigned on Monday. Correction Enterprises, an arm of the state Department of Public Safety, ran the sewing plant at Pasquotank that employed four inmates who authorities say killed employees during an Oct. 12 escape attempt.

Correction Enterprises runs about 30 industrial plants inside the state’s prisons, employing about 2500 inmates statewide. Brown, whose annual salary is about $105,000, has headed Correction Enterprises since 2002. Robert Leon, deputy director of Correction Enterprises, will run the operation in Brown’s absence.

State officials acknowledge that the personnel moves are related to the fatal attacks at Pasquotank, but say that state confidentiality rules don’t allow them to elaborate.

The actions follow Thursday’s release of a report by the National Institute of Corrections, which found that staff shortages and glaring security failures allowed inmates at Pasquotank to roam freely with easy access to dangerous tools.

Prison staff let inmates wander through doors that should have been locked and allowed them to turn a stock room room into a “hiding place” concealed from security cameras, according to the federal report. Inmates were even allowed to check out their own tools – including hammers and scissors with six-inch blades.

The federal investigators also found no one at the prison was watching surveillance cameras that monitored the sewing plant.

Inmates beat multiple employees with hammers and stabbed them with scissors, according to prison workers who called 911. Those attacks took the lives of prison officers Wendy Shannon and Justin Smith, along with sewing plant manager Veronica Darden and maintenance worker Geoffrey Howe.

Among the four inmates charged in the Pasquotank attacks, 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.

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 dangerous tools.

The four inmates – Jonathan Monk, Wisezah Buckman, Mikel Brady and Seth Frazier – have been charged with first-degree murder in the killings.

Thirty inmates, including 12 maximum-security prisoners, were working in the sewing plant the day of the attack. A single officer – half the recommended number – watched over them.

The officer was responsible for providing security, including strip-searching the prisoners, according to the federal report. Such searches happened just 20 percent of the time, the report states.

About one quarter of the officer positions at the prison were vacant at the time of the escape attempt, according to the federal report.

Dennis Daniels, a longtime administrator at another eastern North Carolina prison, has been temporarily assigned to oversee operations at Pasquotank. Database editor Gavin Off contributed to this story.

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex