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North Carolina Prisoners Sue Over Gang Violence, Obtain $62,500 Settlement

According to a February 8, 2019 news report, a lawsuit filed by North Carolina prisoners Tavieolis Hunt, 39, Benjamin White, 35, and Sean Smith, 38, settled for a total of $62,500. The settlement was reached after the trio and two other state prisoners, Orlando Harshaw and Stacey Wynn, sued Lanesboro Correctional Institution Superintendent Lawrence Parsons and other prison officials for allowing and facilitating attacks by gang members in a part of the prison run by Unit Supervisor Jeffrey E. Wall. Guards allegedly opened doors to permit Blood and MS-13 gang members to attack Hunt, White and the other plaintiffs. Harshaw dropped his claims after learning the prison was slated to be converted into a women’s facility.

Wynn, who was reportedly stabbed in the chest and beaten in November 2011, lost his suit after it went to trial in July 2018. The jury found that Superintendent Parsons had not been indifferent to violence at the prison.

Jeffrey Wall was barred from the Lanesboro Correctional Institution and then fired after he tried to use force to enter the facility and remove bloody homemade weapons and videos of the unit where the attacks occurred, which were hidden in the drop ceiling of his office. He also displayed a gun and threatened that he could “get anyone” outside the prison, according to his letter of dismissal. Superintendent Parsons retired in 2016.

The five plaintiffs were attacked during a 10-month period of violence that included the murder of prisoner Wesley Turner. Guards allegedly allowed gang members to enter Turner’s cell to attack his cellmate. According to Hunt’s lawsuit, it was only after that incident that prison officials began to address the violence and corruption in that wing of the prison.

Investigators found that just before Turner was killed, two of his attackers went to an assistant unit manager’s office. Shortly thereafter, a guard allowed the gang members into the pod where the murder occurred.

According to Smith’s complaint, “The Supervisor of the Union Unit, Defendant Jeffrey E. Wall, deliberately fostered gang violence within the Union Unit. He was either a member of the Bloods gang or profited personally from facilitating the gang-controlled contraband economy that flourished in his Unit. He assigned most ‘Blood’ or ‘United Blood Nation’ (UBN) gang members to a single cell pod – the ‘E’ Pod – that was one of the six pods on the Union Unit. Defendant Wall and his staff allowed gang members to move freely throughout the Unit, in and out of his office, in complete violation of DPS prison control policies. His staff opened secured, controlled-access doors to allow gang members to enter other pods on the Unit to commit acts of retributive violence. All of the assaults involved contraband metal weapons resembling razors, shanks, knives, ice picks, and similar dangerous weapons.”

White added in his complaint, “As a result of the deliberate indifference to the culture of violence fostered by Defendant Wall in the Union Unit and enabled and permitted by Defendant Parsons, Plaintiff suffered a violent attack causing physical injury that deprived him of his Constitutional right to bodily integrity while in government custody, and he has served his prison sentence in constant fear for his life and safety.”

Ian Mance, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who represented four of the five plaintiffs, stated: “We hope that the settlements illustrate that people who are in the custody of the state have a right to safety, that administrators have a responsibility to know what’s going on in their prisons. The violence in Lanesboro was pervasive and it should have triggered an intervention and investigation from the state much earlier than occurred. That didn’t happen, and so these plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in part to get people to pay attention to what was happening there.”

Wall was specifically excluded from the settlements to allow legal claims to continue against him. His attorney, Joseph Ledford, said Wall is negotiating separate settlements with the plaintiffs out of his own pocket. Although Wall has denied facilitating gang attacks at the prison, he has never explained why he kept weapons and security videos hidden in the ceiling of his office. See: White v. Parsons, U.S.D.C. (W.D. NC), Case Nos. 3:14-cv-00625 and 3:17-cv-00120, and Smith v. Kennedy, U.S.D.C. (W.D. NC), Case Nos. 3:14-cv-00625 and 3:17-cv-00119. 

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Additional sources: apnews.com, corrections​one.com, charlotteobserver.com

Related legal cases

White v. Parsons

Smith v. Kennedy