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Reports: Wake, Durham probation offices 'in crisis'

Investigative reports obtained Monday by WRAL News show Durham and Wake County offices were disorganized and inefficient at the time two local college students were slain.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Investigative reports obtained Monday by WRAL News show Durham County and Wake County probation offices were disorganized and inefficient and that the Durham office was "in a crisis situation with its work force."

The probes, ordered in the wake of the shooting deaths of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Carson and Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato, indicate one of the biggest problems for both offices was failure to track offenders, especially absconders.

Both Demario James Atwater, 22, and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, were on probation at the time they were arrested in connection with the deaths. Probation officers had overlooked each suspect, according to an internal review of how their cases were handled.

Veteran management teams from the Department of Correction's Division of Community Corrections, which oversees the probation system, were then brought in to review the Wake and Durham offices. Those interim teams found a number of other problems.

Case files were transferred too often from probation officers for no apparent reason in Durham County, the report stated. They were also out-of-date and disorganized, and some files were missing.

"There did not seem to be much structure or protocol as to how things were done. (Everything was dealt with in a spontaneous manner.)," the Durham report stated.

The review audited 2,174 of the approximately 4,300 Durham County offender files. of those, 36 percent had serious problems, 24 percent had moderate problems and 27 percent needed administrative follow-up.

In Wake County, 944 of the 7,424 offender files were audited. A quarter of them had serious problems, 18 percent had moderate problems and 36 percent needed administrative follow-up.

Interim managers also looked at the daily operations of both offices and found that vacancies in the Wake County office were not being filled in a timely manner.

In Durham County, the people in 32 of the 87 staff positions had less than five years of experience, and the audit team was concerned by vacancies and lack of supervision to the offender population.

"This is just embarrassing," Durham City Councilman Eugene Brown said Monday. "This is a very damning report. This is a crucial agency that, in the past, has put the public in harm's way."

Brown said the reports' findings indicate change is needed not only in the Wake and Durham offices, but in the division.

"He's led us into this situation," Brown said of Division of Community Corrections Director Robert Guy. "And it's an embarrassment, not just for Wake and Durham counties but the entire state. Where is the accountability? Where does the buck stop?"

Guy said change is on the way. The managers in both offices have retired, resigned or been reassigned, but no one has been fired.

The offices have also overhauled operations, recreated missing files and provided additional training for probation officers.

Guy also named new managers on Monday, effective Sept. 2, to replace those who were reassigned.

Diane Isaacs, formerly the Wake County interim district manager, was named acting assistant chief for community corrections in a 21-county region that covers Wake, Durham and Cumberland counties.

Margaret Brewer was named judicial district manager in Wake County, and John Lee was named judicial district manager in Durham County. Brewer will oversee 141 employee who supervise some 7,400 offenders. Lee will oversee 86 employees who supervise 4,300 offenders.

“The key thing is that new faces mean new policies and new management and new accountability," Brown said.