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Correction Officials 'Disturbed' by Probation Probe's Findings

The state is looking closer at probation offices in Wake and Durham counties to find out why the suspects in two recent college slayings were overlooked.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Department of Correction officials are expanding their probe into probation offices in Wake and Durham counties, saying they are bothered by what they are finding.

Officials launched an internal investigation earlier this month based on the cases of two men charged in the March 5 death of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Student Body President Eve Carson.

"I think it's fair to say that we're disturbed," DOC spokesman Keith Acree said Wednesday, declining to elaborate further. "The director (of the Division of Community Corrections) has said he's greatly disturbed by what he's seen so far."

Specific findings, he said, will be released in a report expected next week.

Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, and Demario James Atwater, 21, had been in and out of jail several times or were in violation of probation and were overlooked by the state's probation system.

Each faces a first-degree murder charge in Carson's death. Lovette is also charged in the shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato in January.

Among the findings of the DOC's investigation, so far, authorities have learned Lovette's probation officer, Chalita Nicole Thomas, was charged in 2005 with driving while impaired and was arrested on another DWI charge in December.

She was charged with having  a concealed weapon and offenses related to harassing phone calls in 2003, but they were later dropped.

Thomas was hired Sept. 13, 2004, as a correctional officer and became a probation officer last summer. She reported her December DWI to her supervisor, but nothing happened to her until March 7, when she was put on administrative duty.

Part of the internal investigation is whether she should have been hired and what the hiring policies and processes are, Acree said.

"That concerns us," he said. "I think it's difficult for a person with that type of thing in their history to manage people in similar situations."

At the time of his arrest on March 13, Lovette was on probation for a pair of crimes he had committed last November. He received a two-year suspended sentence for misdemeanor larceny and breaking and entering and was placed on probation Jan. 16.

Atwater had been wanted on a probation violation for several months but wasn't arrested until February. He was in court two days before Carson's death for a hearing on the matter, but it was rescheduled because of a clerical error.

Robert L. Guy, director of the Division of Community Corrections, told WRAL last week that during the six-week period from Mahato's to Carson's deaths, Thomas attempted to met with Lovette outside of court but did not succeed.

"There's no excuse, absolutely no excuse, for having somebody on probation and they don't see their probation officer," said Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, who sits on a state House justice-system-review committee.

Blue said lawmakers want to know if probation problems are a matter of training or resources. The latter would be an issue for legislators.

Seth Effron, a spokesman with the Governor's Press Office, said that if probation needs a statewide review, Gov. Mike Easley expects that to happen.

"The expectation is that if through what is found, they need to look at things on a statewide basis, the secretary (of Correction, Theodis Beck) will do that and determine what the problems are and additionally come up with what needs to be done to fix it," he said.

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Kelcey Carlson, Reporter
Robert Meikle, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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