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Officials: No prosecution over paralyzed prisoner

The SBI found the injuries inmate Timothy E. Helms sustained to his head and back were not consistent with a beating by prison guards.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Department of Correction has released video footage taken on the night a paralyzed state prisoner claims he was beaten while in solitary confinement.

Medical records show inmate Timothy E. Helms suffered brain damage after sustaining injuries August 3, 2008 while at the Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville.

Helms was taken to Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory in a police cruiser on Aug. 4. The emergency room doctor wrote that the patient started a fire in his cell and officers had to subdue him by beating him on his body, face and head. Scans showed bleeding in his brain.

The video released Friday showed guards open the cell door where smoke was pouring out. Helms admits to starting the fire. 

Guards found Helms unresponsive and dragged him out of his cell into the shower area, which does not have cameras.

Officials said the shower area was the most immediate and secure place. Helms maintains that it was during that time he was beaten by prison guards.

"Their focus was on trying to get Helms out of there. You had 15 other individuals who had to be taken out," Department of Correction Secretary Al Keller said.

Keller contends that Helms was not assaulted by any employees of the Alexander Correctional Institution.

“Helms had numerous opportunities the night of the fire and the morning after to raise concerns about being assaulted. He never once complained about being beaten to any prison medical staff or to the local sheriff deputy who talked to him in the prison medical area that night,” Keller said Friday.

Department of Correction officials couldn't determine how Helms was injured, so they asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into it.

The SBI found the injuries Helms sustained to his head and back were not consistent with a beating by prison guards.

Helms' lawyer, Lynne M. Holtkamp, said it may take a civil lawsuit to determine what happened.

"The beating of a person is unlawful, regardless of where it occurs and who it is and who is doing it. Those who are responsible can and should be held accountable," Holtkamp said.

DOC officials said Helms has not filed a grievance in the case.

Helms was sent to prison for three life terms after a fatal drunken driving accident in 1994. He has been eligible for parole since 2004, and has another parole hearing on June 1.

Helms will have to stay in a prison hospital. Correction Department Secretary Alvin Keller overrode a recommendation of doctors to release Helms to a hospice. Doctors said he no longer posed a threat.

A grand jury did indict him on charges related to starting the fire in his cell.