NC prison below critical staffing levels at time of deadly attack, sources say

Updated: Nov. 1, 2019 at 4:58 PM EDT
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TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. (WBTV) - Alexander Correctional Institution was critically short on staff on Wednesday night when one inmate fatally stabbed another with a homemade shank.

“Offender Christopher Parker, 33, (0789551) was stabbed with a homemade weapon around 10 p.m. in a housing unit at the prison. He was transported by EMS to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11:51 p.m.,” the North Carolina Department of Public Safety announced in a statement Thursday.

But interviews with three employees who work at the prison--all of whom spoke with WBTV on the condition they not be named for fear of facing retaliation--provide new details about the prison’s staffing shortage and that raise questions about the official statement from DPS.

All three sources said the incident took place at a time when nine corrections officers who had been held over from the day shift left.

Prison regulations only allow an employee to work an additional four hours past their 12-hour shift, one source explained. Because of that, the nine employees who had been held over to meet the minimum staffing requirements of the prison had to leave by 10:00 p.m.; just minutes before the attack took place.

Watch: WBTV Investigates: North Carolina’s Deadly Prisons

In an email late Friday afternoon, a DPS spokesman disputed the notion that the prison was short on staff at the time of the attack.

“There was sufficient staffing at the time of the incident,” spokesman John Bull said. “The majority of offenders in the facility were in their cells at the time of the incident and the situation was brought under control quickly by staff in the unit.”

Bull’s statement did not address the actual number of corrections officers needed to operate the facility and did not answer the question as to whether that number of officers was at the prison at the time of the attack.

In response to a separate question, Bull refused to say how many officers were on duty at the time of the attack.

WBTV has previously uncovered internal DPS reports that show the agency distorted staffing levels at some state prisons to make its staffing shortage appear better than it actually is.

In his email Friday, Bull said Alexander CI currently has a nearly 16 percent vacancy rate.

Previous: NC prison leaders try to run, hide from questions about prison safety

The sources also told WBTV that the prison was not put on lock down following the attack and a special unit of outside corrections officers--known as a PERT team--were never called to the prison to conduct an inspection of the facility for additional weapons and other contraband, which would typically happen following an attack.

Bull, the DPS spokesman, confirmed the PERT team was put on standby but never called to the prison and said an additional search of the prison was not needed after the weapon used in the attack was located by officers on site.

In Friday’s email, Bull did confirm one point of information WBTV obtained from its three sources: that the inmate actually died at the prison and not at the hospital, as DPS’ release had claimed.

“Based on reports provided by facility, the offender was pronounced deceased in the Main medical area of the facility,” Bull said, contradicting his release from the previous day.

These new details about Wednesday’s deadly attack comes the same day Governor Roy Cooper signed new legislation into law that provides a study committee to evaluate ways to reform the structure of the state’s prison system.

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