Top leaders suspended at understaffed prison where 4 died

Posted January 31, 2018 4:43 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2018 6:53 p.m. EST

— Top administrators at a North Carolina prison where four employees were killed during the deadliest breakout attempt in state history are suspended with pay after an outside investigation found multiple security lapses before and after the slayings.

State prisons spokesman Jerry Higgins said Wednesday that Pasquotank Correctional Institution Administrator Felix Taylor and assistant superintendent for custody operations Colbert Respass were placed on leave with pay on Monday.

Higgins says they'll stay out until the end of an investigation. He refused to say whether that was the criminal investigation into the assaults, or something else.

The move comes after a National Institute of Corrections evaluation report released last week said the Pasquotank prison was so understaffed that workers cut corners in ways that created opportunities for the deadly October breakout attempt.

The arm of the U.S. Justice Department was called in by state prison officials after October's failed escape attempt left two correctional officers, a vocational instructor and a maintenance worker dead. Four inmates have been charged with murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Understaffed prison workers failed to keep track of tools, metal shards and hazardous chemicals, the report said. It added inmates also were allowed to create hiding places outside the view of video cameras and that doors were left unlocked. Inmates were able to roam unobserved near the prison-industries sewing plant, where some set a fire to create a diversion during their breakout attempt.

Inmates leaving the sewing plant were supposed to pass through a metal detector and be stripped searched, but the body inspections took place only about 20 percent of the time, the report said. It noted hacksaw blades, scissors, and hammers were given out by an inmate to other prisoners.

Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks told lawmakers last week that policies systemwide on inmate access to tools were quickly changed. He also said workers at medium-security prisons would soon receive additional safety equipment.