Crime & Courts

After families complain, prison officials reconsidering move of Charlotte cop killer

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers Sean Clark and Jeff Shelton were fatally ambushed in their police car in 2007. Now their families have complained that convicted killer Demetrius Montgomery was moved to a lesser-security prison without their knowledge.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers Sean Clark and Jeff Shelton were fatally ambushed in their police car in 2007. Now their families have complained that convicted killer Demetrius Montgomery was moved to a lesser-security prison without their knowledge. Observer staff

Following complaints from families and a Mecklenburg prosecutor, state prison officials say they are reviewing their decision to hold the killer of two Charlotte police officers in a lower-security prison.

Demetrius Montgomery, convicted of the 2007 execution-style slayings of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers Sean Clark and Jeff Shelton, is currently being held in a medium-security facility in Albemarle, about 40 miles from Charlotte.

After his 2010 trial, Montgomery was first sent to a maximum-security prison in Raleigh. Two years later, prison officials say Montgomery was “promoted” to a medium-security facility in Bertie County. Following stays in two other medium-security prisons, Montgomery was moved to Albemarle in February, prison officials say.

Bob Clark, the father of one of the slain officers, said he and his family, along with Shelton’s loved ones, knew nothing about the changes in Montgomery’s location and detention status over the past seven years despite a court order at the killer’s trial that the families be kept apprised.

The day after some of the officers’ loved ones came to Charlotte to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their deaths, Clark said he learned “by accident” that Montgomery was no longer being held under maximum security and had been moved closer to his family in Mecklenburg County.

Clark says the families – and the slain officers – have been betrayed.

“A terrible wrong has been done to both of our families,” Clark told the Observer this week. “We need answers to our questions ... We have not heard anything since the day he was incarcerated ... My question is this: Why should a cop killer be allowed any privileges?

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray is wondering the same thing.

In an April 24 letter to state prison Director George Solomon, Murray says that “given the vile nature of his crimes,” Montgomery should be returned to a maximum-security prison.

“The murder of two police officers is an attack on our system of law and order,” Murray wrote. “Treating a cop killer the same as any other inmates, in my opinion, sends a bad message. It makes it more dangerous for your corrections officers whose very lives depend on inmates having some respect for the uniform.”

Now, the prison system apparently is taking another look.

Arrest of Demetrius Montgomery
Demetrius Montgomery is serving two life sentences without parole for killing two Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers in 2007. A day after the 10th anniversary of the killings, the father of one of the officers says he recently learned that Montgomery has been removed from a maximum-security prison and relocated to a facility closer to Charlotte. The families knew none of this. Mecklenburg jail

Keith Acree, a spokesman with the state Department of Public Safety, said because of the objections raised by Murray and the officers’ families, “Prison management is currently evaluating Montgomery’s housing assignment.”

Any change could have a significant impact on the way Montgomery is treated.

In a medium-security prison, inmates stay in dormitories with up to 50 other prisoners, prison officials say. Inmates have access to work opportunities inside the prison and out, as well as self-improvement programs.

In maximum-security conditions – which public safety officials say are limited to “the most dangerous inmates” considered a “severe threat to public safety, correctional staff and other inmates – Montgomery would be confined, alone, in his cell for 23 hours every day. All his movement would be controlled with restraints and an armed escort.

Murray says that’s where Montgomery belongs. “Being in anything less than a maximum security facility may send a message to other inmates that (the prison system) does not take what this inmate did seriously enough.”

The prison system is still reeling from the beating death of a prison guard two weeks ago, apparently at the hands of a former maximum-security inmate who had been upgraded to medium security in October. Craig Wissink has been charged with first-degree murder, accused of setting a fire in a common area at Bertie Correctional Institution specifically to lure Sgt. Meggan Callahan. Officials say Wissink then beat Callahan to death with the fire extinguisher she was carrying.

Elizabeth Forbes, executive director of the prison reform group NC Cure, says prison policies that allow prisoners to earn privileges with good behavior “are the essence of keeping sanity within the prison system.”

“My heart goes out to the families and the communities on behalf of the police officers. We depend on them. They’re the glue that holds us altogether,” Forbes said. “But the bottom line is this: Prisons have policies, and those policies are for everyone. Whether they are murderers or rapists, if they’ve followed the rules they must be given the same opportunities as other inmates.”

On March 31, 2007, Clark and Shelton were both shot in the back of the head in west Charlotte after responding to a call at Timber Ridge Apartments. Three years later, Montgomery never spoke during his two-month trial. Since his imprisonment, Montgomery has had no behavioral infractions, according to state records.

Bob Clark says the nature of Montgomery’s crime should disqualify him from being treated like other inmates. He described the inmate’s medium-security status as a wrist slap.

“He took something from us, and he’s got to pay for what he’s done,” said Clark, who lives near Fayetteville.

In a recent Facebook post, Clark said the families of Montgomery’s victims “should have a say in this process.”

Acree says prison officials alert families to some but not all changes of a prisoner’s status. “Since inmate transfers between locations ... happen frequently, notifications are not sent for those,” he said in a email. “But notifications are provided for changes like promotion to minimum custody or inmate release, escape, capture or death.”

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS