by Gary Hunter
Jail guards Ronald Eugene Parker and Brandon Gray Huie were charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of a prisoner in North Carolina's Davidson County jail, and both received prison terms.
Carlos Claros-Castro, 28, a native of Honduras, was arrested on January 6, 2006 after he was involved in an auto accident. He was charged with driving while impaired, leaving the scene of an accident and other vehicular offenses.
On January 7, Claros-Castro became agitated for some unknown reason at the Davidson County jail and removed his clothes. He was handcuffed and placed in a restraint chair for four hours, then returned to a cell. At some point Claros-Castro obtained a fiberglass mop handle from a jail trustee, which guards wanted to remove. Brandon Huie responded first and became engaged in a physical confrontation with the combatant prisoner.
When he called for help, Parker, a large man who stands over six feet tall, came to Huie's aid.
The two wrestled with Claros-Castro and used an ASP baton, tear gas and Taser on him.
"The inmate was clearly having some kind of an emotional break," said Parker's attorney, Walter Jones. "In an effort to subdue him, the jailers had to go into his cell. He had a great deal of aggression, and they had a hard time getting him under control."
The guards ended up killing Claros-Castro during the struggle.
Sheriff David Grice stated that due to excessive staff turnover, an emergency response unit was not available at the jail when Claros-Castro died. Also, no mental health personnel or staff who spoke Spanish were on duty, according to jail Lt. Beverly Cook.
An autopsy found that Claros-Castro died from asphyxiation and blunt trauma to the head. His death was ruled a homicide. The State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) compiled a 1,600-page report on the incident, which eventually led to the indictment of Huie and Parker. The entire investigation took only a week.
Sheriff Grice was concerned with his own image as he made his bid for election. Grice was appointed sheriff in 2003 when he replaced former Sheriff Gerald Hege. Grice's opponents criticized his management of the jail in the wake of Claros-Castro?s death.
"I cannot defend myself politically and follow the law at the same time," said Grice. "We hope that people realize that there were no cover-ups," he added.
The sheriff watched as his former employees stood before a judge in street clothes and handcuffs. Parker and Huie were fired from the sheriff's department; both were released on $25,000 bond.
On June 30, 2006, after pleading guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter, Huie, 25, was sentenced to 16-20 months in prison, the maximum under North Carolina law since he had no prior record.
Parker, 44, decided to take his chances with a jury, hoping, perhaps, that Claros-Castro's status as an illegal immigrant would help him win an acquittal. He was wrong.
After being convicted of involuntary manslaughter on August 11, 2006, Parker was sentenced to 13 to 16 months. The judge denied his request for a suspended sentence and also ordered him to pay $5,000 in restitution. Parker broke down in tears after being sentenced, apologizing to Claros-Castro's family for their "loss."
Meanwhile, Jose Castro, Claros-Castro's brother, filed a $100 million wrongful death suit against the county on Nov. 21, 2006. The lawsuit is pending. See: Claros Castro v. Grice, USDC MD NC, Case No. 1:06-cv-01016-JAB-WWD.
Sources: Associated Press; Journal Reporter; www.badcopnews.com; The Dispatch.
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