Seven correction officers attacked in NC prisons this week

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Seven corrections officers have been attacked while working in North Carolina Prisons since Monday, multiple sources tell WBTV.

The attacks come as the North Carolina Department of Public Safety continues to tout ongoing efforts to make prisons safer for employees.

Five prison employees - including corrections officers and support staff - were killed on the job in 2017.

Sergeant Meggan Callahan was killed in April 2017 while working at Bertie Correctional Institution.

Six months later, four more prison employees were killed during an attempted prison escape at Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

Geoffrey Howe, Justin Smith, Veronica Darden and Wendy Shannon were each attacked by the Pasquotank inmates during the attempted escape.

An internal report of the incident obtained by WBTV showed it took 20 minutes from the time the attack at Pasquotank started before help arrived.

On Tuesday of this week, three more corrections officers were attacked at Pasquotank, multiple sources confirm to WBTV. One officer broke their wrist in the incident.

At Carteret Correctional Institution, two corrections officers were injured in an incident on Wednesday that involved an inmate who didn't want to get out of bed. A source with knowledge of what happened told WBTV one officer was punched and another injured his knee in the struggle to subdue the inmate.

Elsewhere in the state, a corrections officer was injured at Albemarle Correctional Institution in Stanly County and another officer was injured at Foothills Correctional Institution in Morganton, NC.

A spokesman for the state prison system attempted to downplay the incidents in an email Thursday morning.

"I'm not sure if you understand but working in a prison is a dangerous and challenging job," prisons spokesman Jerry Higgins said.

"We are providing the best training and security tools to help our employees stay safe in a difficult environment," he said.

In his email, Higgins also claimed that no staff was attacked at Pasquotank Correctional Institution but acknowledged one staff member injured their wrist "from an inmate snatching away while being cuffed."

Higgins' claim is at odds with a description of the incident included in an internal DPS document obtained by WBTV that says a sergeant at the facility was assaulted by an inmate who "grasp(ed) her in a hug hold." The internal write-up of the incident obtained by WBTV says "several outside medical trips were reported."

A phone call and email to Higgins seeking an explanation as to why his statement included information at odds with his own department's internal documents were not immediately returned.

WBTV has been investigating safety concerns inside the state's prisons for months, since the attack at Pasquotank.

Our investigation has uncovered a system in which staff are told to manipulate employment information to make it look like more corrections officers are assigned to a prison than actually are; in which prison-level employees are retaliated against for attempting to blow the whistle to regional managers about concerns within their facilities; and in which staff ignore safety problems.

Previous Story: Aunt of slain prison worker blames Governor, DPS Secretary for nephew's death

A prison administrator acknowledged the lax safety culture inside the state's prisons during a meeting in December. Melanie Wood, who works in the prison system's human resources department, said employees overlook safety problems at facilities run by their friends, according to a record of the December meeting obtained by WBTV.

"We've been auditing each other's facilities for years and we know that we have just, 'I'll overlook this, you overlook that," Wood said. "We all do it because we're all buddies, we look after each other, that's what we do. We need fresh eyes to go in and look at the facilities."

North Carolina Representative Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan) has been pressing for more to be done to improve the safety of the state's prisons. He said he continues to be perplexed by the lack of action to improve the deadly and dangerous problems plaguing the state's problems on the part of both prison leadership and his fellow lawmakers.

"Make no mistake about it, this is the legislature's job to fix this thing," Steinburg said. "If anybody thinks this story is going away, it is not going away. So we're going to have to fix it sooner or later."

**Watch WBTV News starting Monday night at 6:00 as we begin a four-part, in-depth investigation into more problems creating a deadly environment for employees and inmates inside North Carolina's prisons.

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