Aunt of slain prison worker blames Governor, DPS Secretary for nephew’s death

ELIZABETH CITY, NC (WBTV) - The aunt of one of the workers killed by inmates at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution during an attempted prison escape is demanding change in the wake of her nephew's death.

Geoffrey Howe died on November 2, 2017, from injuries sustained in an attack from four inmates as they attempted to escape Pasquotank CI.

According to an internal report of the attack, obtained exclusively by WBTV, the inmates used a claw hammer and other tools to attack Howe and three corrections officers in a sewing plant where the inmates worked at the prison.

The internal report shows it took 20 minutes from the start of the attack for other prison employees to respond. Howe, the report states, was attacked by the inmates 17 minutes into the incident.

Now Howe's aunt, Nancy Peck, is speaking out about what happened to her nephew.

"I'm really disappointed in the Governor," Peck said. "The leadership has been negligent."

Peck said she and her family are particularly outraged that senior corrections leadership in the Cooper administration didn't do more to enhance protections for prison employees after an incident at the Bertie Correctional Institution in April of 2017 that killed Sgt. Meggan Callahan.

"When I found out that Meggan Callahan - what had happened to her, and that was in April - well, what was done?" Peck asked. "What have they done to correct or to change anything since that young woman was killed? Murdered on her job."

Similarly, North Carolina State Representative Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan) said he thought Callahan's death in April would be the catalyst for reform in the state's prison system.

"I thought it would happen when Meggan Callahan was murdered, then nothing happened," Steinburg said. "There was nothing done. There was no investigation launched and here we are."

Steinburg said he is urging his colleagues and leadership in the state house to evaluate options for legislation that would bring reform.

Specifically, Steinburg said he was pushing to bring legislation as early as January, when the legislature will reconvene for a brief special session before taking up its full slate of work in its "short session" later in the spring.

"This is not going away. This has been going on for a long, long time. I have mentioned publicly and I'll state it again: this is the tip of the iceberg," Steinburg said.

WBTV requested an interview with North Carolina Secretary of Public Safety Erik Hooks but a spokeswoman said he was too busy to offer an on-camera response to Howe's family. The spokeswoman did not provide a comment.

But WBTV tracked down Governor Roy Cooper at an event to ask him questions for this story. He did not directly respond to Howe's family but did say he had spoken with them on the phone.

"It is unacceptable," Cooper said of the five prison employees killed on the job in 2017 when asked to respond to criticism from Howe's family. "We have to improve the prison system and ensure the security of prison employees. And I've directed my head of the Department of Public Safety to take a top-to-bottom review. That is what he is doing."

But, when pressed specifically about why his administration failed to take that action in the wake of Callahan's death in April, Cooper refused to directly answer the question.

"The improvements have begun. We have asked the National Institute of Corrections to come down to North Carolina to inspect and to provide recommendations of things that we need to do," Cooper said.

For her part, Peck said she isn't convinced that leaders in Raleigh have heard the demands for change being made by people impacted by the current state of North Carolina's prison system.

"I think they are pretending to be listening," she said. "Changes are going to be made. We are going to demand that they make the changes. No more complacency."

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