Local News

Probation Director: Oversights 'Flat-Out Embarrassing'

Posted April 2, 2008 5:26 a.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2008 8:13 p.m. EDT

— Inadequate staffing, case reassignments and a lack of training led to deficiencies in the supervision of two men now charged in the death of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's student body president.

That's according to a released Wednesday by the Department of Correction's Division of Community Corrections, which looked into why probation officers overlooked Demario James Atwater, 21, and Laurence Alvin Lovette, 17.

As many as 10 staff touched Atwater's case file and did not address red flags, division Director Robert Guy said, calling it "flat-out embarrassing."

From Feb. 16, 2005 – when he was placed on probation for crimes in Wake County – until March 28, 2006, six probation officers saw Atwater eight times. No one made contact with him again until April 2007, the report said.

There is also no evidence of criminal record-checks during that 13-month period, even though Granville and Durham county authorities arrested Atwater three times, which such checks should have revealed.

A probation officer began filing paperwork for his arrest when he never showed for meetings, but it was never completed.

"That is unacceptable. The supervision of Mr. Atwater on probation by this division is extremely disappointing," Guy said. "It's totally unacceptable by our standards – by any agency's standards."

But Guy said that even if the agency had efficiently followed its own procedures, both defendants could have been free from custody when the students were killed.

"There's no guarantee that they would have not been on the street," he said.

Guy said no one has yet been fired, but three senior probation officials in Wake County have been reassigned. The agency is conducting performance audits in both Wake and Durham, and other temporary and permanent disciplinary actions may be forthcoming.

"This is a dark cloud over our agency," Guy said. "But guess what? We'll remove that cloud."

Among the red flags in Atwater's case, discrepancies in a judge's order and case file were never resolved. Atwater also told probation officers on several occasions he had moved to Durham, but they never transferred the case there because Atwater owed money to the court.

"Wake County staff should have requested courtesy supervision from Durham County until the money violations had been reported to the Wake County court," the report said.

In the case of Lovette, – who's also charged in the fatal shooting of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato – his probation officer was assigned to 127 cases, although she had not completed basic training.

Although she tried contacting him, Lovette never met with her during the six-week period between Mahato's and Carson's deaths other than an initial meeting on the day he was processed in the system.

Guy said the officer, Chalita Nicole Thomas, never should have handled Lovette's case because she should have been on administrative duty following her being charged in December with driving while impaired.