KINSTON — Three former correction officers pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony charges in the 2008 beating of an inmate at a maximum security prison in Greene County, avoiding sentences of hard time in a state facility like the one they once helped run.
Superior Court Judge Paul L. Jones said the staffers from Maury Correctional Institution were "overzealous in carrying out their duties" when they conspired to repeatedly beat David G. Richardson with nightsticks while the inmate was handcuffed and shackled at the ankles.
"Prisoners have rights, too," Jones said, shortly before passing his sentence. "The law requires they be treated humanely, not be assaulted. You overdid your job."
Capt. Gregory Allen Beck, who prosecutors said gave the order to carry out the beating, pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of conspiracy to commit assault, inflicting serious bodily injury. A former Marine and Gulf War veteran, he received a suspended prison sentence of 10 to 12 months, with 36 months of supervised probation. He was also ordered to pay a $500 fine.
Sgt. Terry Lynn Bell, who cooperated with investigators, also pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge, receiving the same suspended sentence, probation and fine as Beck.
Officer Brian Steve Bostick, who prosecutors said repeatedly struck Richardson with his baton, pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting serious bodily injury. He received a suspended sentence of 20 to 24 months, 36 months supervised probation and a $2,500 fine.
Prosecutors said the men also chose to assault the inmate in sections of the prison they knew were not covered by security cameras.
If they had been convicted at trial, rather than agreeing to plead guilty, each could have received up to seven years of active prison time.
Of the three, only Bostick chose to address the court before he was sentenced.
"I feel this is an unfortunate situation, bad judgment on my part," said the former officer. "I have changed since then."
Richardson, still serving a nine-year sentence for robbery with a dangerous weapon, sat silently under guard in the courtroom as the sentences were read. He declined the judge's invitation to speak.
Mamie Barnette, Richardson's mother, said she was disappointed the men were not sent to prison.
"They beat my son nearly to death," said Barnette, who lives in Charlotte. "They broke the law. Anybody else who did what they did would have gotten time. Justice was not served."
Beck, Bell and Bostick were arrested following an SBI investigation into how Richardson sustained serious injuries to his head and legs at Maury in March 2008.
It is not clear what triggered the investigation and the SBI's report on the incident has not been made public. But a federal lawsuit filed on Richardson's behalf by N.C. Prisoner Legal Services earlier this year provides an account of what happened.
On March 21, 2008, Richardson got in an altercation with a correction officer, who placed the inmate in handcuffs and took him to his cell.
Lawsuit tells the tale
The lawsuit says Beck, Bostick and a third officer told Richardson, who was uninjured, that he was going to be taken to the prison's medical facility for an evaluation. Using a waist chain, they secured Richardson's hands behind his back and shackled his ankles.
Once in a hallway unmonitored by a video camera, the lawsuit alleges, Bostick choked Richardson and slammed his head into a concrete wall before pushing him to the ground, kicking him in the mouth and upper body. The lawsuit alleges Bostick, who is white, used a racial slur as he beat Richardson, who is black.
After the assault, Richardson was escorted to the medical facility and treated for a split lip.
As they returned to Richardson's cell block, a dozen inmates told investigators they saw Richardson being beaten again for about five minutes. According to the lawsuit, Bostick hit Richardson with his baton in the head, legs and back as the inmate curled in a fetal position on the floor and begged him to stop. Beck and Bell were standing nearby but did not intervene.
Richardson was then dragged to an empty cell, where Bostick continued the beating, according to the lawsuit.
Thirty minutes later, another correction officer found Richardson curled on the floor of the cell and bleeding, still in restraints. He called for nurses, who put Richardson in a wheelchair.
Several hours later, Richardson was taken to the emergency room at Pitt County Memorial Hospital, where doctors closed three large gashes on his legs and a wound behind his ear.
Following the beating, the officers wrote reports saying Richardson assaulted two officers with a weapon. He was found guilty of three infractions of prison rules and isolated in solitary confinement for 120 days, according to correction records.
While in isolation, Richardson appealed, filing an official grievance with administrators at Maury on March 23, 2008. His complaint was dismissed as being without merit.
"You came out of your cell and assaulted two staff members and another inmate," wrote Harold Person, the assistant superintendent for custody and security at Maury, in an April 8 letter. "Staff acted in a professional manner. The incident was controlled with the minimum amount of force."
Records show Beck, Bostick and Bell lost their state jobs only after the SBI launched its investigation of the incident, nearly four months later.
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