Prison warden faces prison time

Staff WriterApril 20, 2011 

— RALEIGH -- The head of one of the state's largest and most secure prison facilities has been charged with felony obstruction of justice after he allegedly ordered the destruction or withholding of video evidence relevant to a criminal investigation.

Richard L. Neely, who until last week was the administrator of Lanesboro Correctional Institution, was charged Thursday with a single count of common law obstructing justice, a Class H felony punishable by up to eight months in prison.

Court records indicate the arrest warrant was served by an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation.

State and local officials familiar with the criminal investigation have refused to provide any further detail about the arrest or the broader criminal investigation.

Keith Acree, the director of public affairs for the N.C. Department of Correction, issued a brief media release at 4:18 p.m. Friday announcing that Neely had been "reassigned to the division's Piedmont Region Office pending the outcome of an internal (DOC) investigation."

The release made no mention of Neely's arrest.

Opened in 2004, Lanesboro is a 1,000-inmate prison in Polkton, about 40 miles southeast of Charlotte. It has a reputation as one of the toughest, and most brutal, places to serve time in the North Carolina prison system.

Neely, 52, could not be reached for comment.

Following a request Tuesday from The News & Observer for comment about an SBI probe at the facility, DOC director of external affairs Pamela Walker responded in an email message.

"This was not DOC's indictment," Walker wrote. "We did not request SBI investigation. You need to talk to the DA."

Reece Saunders, the district attorney for Stanly, Anson and Richmond counties, declined through his assistant to speak to a reporter about Neely's arrest.

A request for information about Neely's arrest to Jennifer Canada, spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper and the SBI, also received no response Tuesday.

A copy of Neely's indictment, released by DOC Tuesday evening, alleges Neely "unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did obstruct justice by ordering evidence, ... CD of video surveillance fromLanesboro prison, to be withheld and/or destroyed that was directly relevant and related to an ongoing investigation of Lanesboro inmates."

A 30-year veteran of the state's prisons who started his career as a guard, Neely was named head of Lanesboro in November 2009 after The Charlotte Observer reported on the use of excessive force at the facility. The newspaper's report led to the abrupt retirement of the then-administrator; five others were disciplined.

The newspaper reported that inmate Bill Rayburn was repeatedly pepper-sprayed by correction officers after requesting medical help.

Rayburn said correctional officers pepper-sprayed him four times, twice after he had been stripped naked. The officers then refused to let him wash off the burning chemical or get prompt treatment for his injuries.

An internal DOC investigation found that employees violated the agency's use-of-force policies. The prison system settled a lawsuit by Rayburn, paying the inmate $10,000.

Neely, who previously served as the administrator of Charlotte Correctional Institution, was still on the DOC payroll Tuesday. His annual salary is $71,846.

The indictment alleges that Neely engaged in obstruction involving the surveillance footage for more than a year, from the month he took over until December 2010.

Two assistant superintendents at Lanesboro will continue to manage daily operations at the facility until DOC completes its internal investigation of the allegations against Neely.

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4698

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