Investigators find multiple failures at NC prison after deadly escape attempt

Investigators find multiple failures at NC prison after deadly escape attempt
These are the inmates charged in the deadly attacks at Pasquotank Correctional Institution. From left to right: Jonathan Monk, Seth Frazier, Wisezah Buckman and Mikel Brady.

(Gavin Off and Ames Alexander | The Charlotte Observer) - In October, when four employees were fatally attacked inside Pasquotank Correctional Institution, inmates were free to take potentially dangerous tools wherever they went inside the prison's sewing plant.

A single prison officer was left in charge of watching the 34 inmates who worked inside that plant.

And the prison's surveillance cameras didn't adequately monitor some areas, such as a spot where the plant supervisor was killed.

Those were among the findings of the N.C. Occupational Safety and Health Division, which last week cited the state prison system for failing to eliminate hazards "likely to cause death or serious injury."

OSHA's findings echo many of the same conclusions outlined in a 78-page report from the National Institute of Corrections, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Authorities say the attacks at the eastern North Carolina prison happened during a failed escape attempt, taking the lives of prison officers Wendy Shannon and Justin Smith, along with sewing plant operator Veronica Darden and maintenance worker Geoffrey Howe.

Watch: WBTV Investigates: North Carolina's deadly prisons

Four inmates have been charged with first-degree murder. The inmates — Jonathan Monk, Wisezah Buckman, Mikel Brady and Seth Frazier — all worked in Pasquotank's sewing plant, where prisoners produced embroidered logo items and safety vests.

Three of the four inmates were incarcerated for violent crimes — including murder — and all were housed in the prison's maximum-security unit, records show. The inmates used hammers and scissors in their attacks on staff, according to OSHA, which has proposed a $7,000 fine.

Inmates Brady and Frazier assaulted Darden near a freight elevator before Brady helped Buckman and Monk attack Smith, according to an inmate disciplinary report.

Brady then started a fire in a sewing plant storage room as a diversion, before the inmates began their escape attempt, investigators say. They took an elevator to the loading dock area, where they attacked Shannon and Howe, the disciplinary report states. Then they fought their way over several interior fences before officers subdued them.

After the attacks, state prison leaders transferred the four inmates to other prisons, placed Pasquotank's two top administrators on paid leave and closed the sewing plant.

A prison spokesman said the sewing plant's embroidery equipment is being moved to Pender Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison north of Wilmington.

The director of Correctional Enterprises, which ran the plant, was also reassigned following the killings.

Recently, prison leaders developed a plan to remove maximum-security inmates from job assignments involving cutting and impact tools.

Like many N.C. prisons, Pasquotank has struggled with staffing problems. In October, more than 28 percent of officer positions were vacant, up from 17 percent three years earlier.