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Another Troubled North Carolina Jail

Prisoner suicides, mistaken releases, jailers indicted for selling drugs and dispensing sex, prisoners caught with drugsall occurred at the Cumberland County Detention Center, a $36 million North Carolina jail, in the seven months following its February 2003 opening.

On March 23, 2003, shortly after 1 a.m., Army Sgt. William Clark Wright Jr. was found hanging in his cell. Wright, 36, was one of four Fort Bragg soldiers accused of murdering his wife in the Summer of 2002. He was the third to kill himself. Although Wright was not on suicide watch, computer records showed guards had checked on him 28 minutes before he was discovered. There are no cameras in the cells.

On July 16, 2003, a prisoner was mistakenly released by nine-year jail veteran Scott Burgess. The man apparently had the same name as a prisoner slated for release. Burgess was briefly suspended. In August Burgess again mistakenly released a prisoner, this time due to a paperwork error. Burgess was fired on September 9. Both prisoners turned themselves in.

Also in July, officials learned that two jailers were allegedly providing prisoners with contraband and sex. Latoya Swartz, 25, is accused of having sex with prisoners and providing them with food, cigars, pornographic magazines, liquor, and prescription drugs. Promises Ward, 24, allegedly gave a prisoner a cell phone and had sex with him. According to the Sheriff's Office, the contraband was sold but the sex was free.

On August 20, 2003, Swartz and Ward were arrested. Swartz faces 9 counts each of furnishing controlled substances and possessing controlled substances, 4 counts of trading contraband with prisoners, and 3 counts of sexual activity by a custodian. Ward was charged with 7 counts of trading contraband and 1 count of having sex with a prisoner. Bond was set at $1 million each.

On September 11, 2003, reported that two prisonersEbony Shanique and Tony Huckabeehad been charged with possession of crack cocaine. One of the men obtained the drugs from a third prisoner who had smuggled them through intake, said investigators.

Believing the jail's poor performance stemmed from inadequate training and supervision, Cumberland County Sheriff Moose Butler commissioned a review "from the back door of the jail to the front door."

In September, 2003, after reading the investigators nine-page report, Butler suspended Major Dan Ford without pay for five days. "I'm very tired of these situations," Butler said. Butler also said the jail would install additional cameras and institute more thorough booking procedures.

Other North Carolina jails are similarly troubled. See PLN, January 2004 for a story on the Cherokee County Jail.

Sources: USA Today,

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