Local News

Family Wants Answers After Relative Dies Suddenly In Central Prison

Posted June 12, 2002 3:55 a.m. EDT

— On Dec. 30, Odell Harrison's family went to visit him at a minimum security prison in Durham. Ten days later, they got a call that he had died suddenly at Central Prison. They want to know why he was there in the first place and why he died.

Tuesday would have been Harrison's 40th birthday. Instead of celebrating, his family is mourning. Harrison died at Central Prison in Raleigh on Jan. 9. The family says the circumstances raise questions.

"It's not adding up at all. There are so many different stories. I've heard three to four different stories on what happened," said Caroline Hartrove, Harrison's sister.

Harrison was serving a 3- to 6-month sentence at the Durham Correctional Center sentence for breaking and entering when officers sprayed him with pepper spray during a verbal confrontation.

"He continues to mumble and spout gibberish and quote scripture and would not comply to any of their orders," said Pam Walker, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction.

"There are two sets of rules in America, one for whites and one for blacks. A lot of times, law enforcement or state correction officers are overly aggresive when it comes to black people," said Dwain Coleman, president of the Granville branch of the NAACP.

Harrison was sent to Central Prison for a mental evaluation. The prison system never told his family about the transfer. One week later, he died from a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in his lung.

"If it is big enough, and if it is in a strategic enough place, then it will cut off blood flow and you're not able to get blood to the lungs and get your tissues oxygenated," said Dr. Rosemary Jackson, deputy medical director for the state Department of Correction.

Three local chapters of the NAACP have stepped in to help the family sort out the situation.

"Normally, healthy young black males don't mysteriously die for no reason at all," Coleman said.

"There was no way they could have known this was going to happen and therefore, no preventive measures could have been made," Walker said.

Department of Correction officials said they have thoroughly reviewed the case and believe it was handled correctly. They say because Harrison did not complain of any symptoms related to the blood clot, shortness of breath or chest pain, they had no reason to suspect something was wrong.

The family says they are considering filing a lawsuit against the state for negligence.