Judge orders Central Prison to install new security cameras

ablythe@newsobserver.comAugust 22, 2013 

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U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle

DENNIS COOK — AP

— U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle instructed attorneys representing the North Carolina prison system on Thursday to bring him the state’s plan for installing new Central Prison security cameras in the wake of a lawsuit filed by prisoners who say guards beat them severely and sadistically in blind spots out of camera range.

After eliciting testimony from an inmate who said his pelvis was crushed in a December beating by guards, Boyle also instructed the attorneys to include details for how the maximum-security facility plans to preserve security camera images weeks longer than the current practice.

Eight inmates have filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing 19 Central Prison correctional officers of taking handcuffed and shackled inmates from solitary confinement cells to the “desert” – areas out of security-camera range – and beating the prisoners harshly enough to break bones.

Jerome Peters, a 48-year-old man from Northampton County serving a 14-year sentence for first-degree burglary, hobbled to the front of a Raleigh federal courtroom on Thursday, using a walker to maintain his balance.

Peters lowered himself into a chair on the witness stand, took a moment to catch his breath, then offered details of a December incident that prompted N.C. Prisoner Legal Services attorneys to amend a July 2010 complaint from a Central Prison inmate alleging abuse.

Peters, who has a history of misdemeanor convictions prior to the 2002 felony burglary conviction, said he was beaten by guards on Dec. 3, 2012, while being escorted back to the solitary confinement block. Peters said he had filed internal complaints against some of the guards for bringing him food that failed to adhere to his dietary restrictions.

The guards, Peters said, retaliated against him while his hands were cuffed behind him. One guard hit him on the left jaw, while another grabbed his leg and pulled him to the ground. A third correctional officer, according to Peters, joined in on the beating, stomping on him and hitting him with their hands and feet as they shackled his legs, too.

Peters suffered fractured bones in his hand, face and pelvic area, according to the lawsuit. His initial request for medical assistance resulted in a nurse offering him Tylenol for his pain. He eventually was seen at the prison hospital and transferred to WakeMed in Raleigh, he said, where he was treated for injuries that restricted his mobility so much that he was in a wheelchair for months.

Jodi Harris, a lawyer with the state Attorney General’s office, offered a glimpse of how prison officials plan to try to discredit Peters if the case gets to trial.

Harris argued that while incarcerated Peters had been charged with throwing urine on a prison guard and spitting on a guard he accused in his brutal beating, an offense in prison that counts as an assault infraction. Peters denied the spitting accusation.

Though Central Prison has many security cameras throughout, Peters and his attorneys contend the December beating occurred in a hallway outside the range.

In the lawsuit, the prisoners accused former prison administrators Gerald J. Branker and Kenneth Lassister of failing to preserve camera images that might bolster inmate abuse complaints. They further accuse the one-time administrators of failing to fully investigate abuse complaints and for policy breakdowns that do not ensure such allegations are justly aired.

The hearing on Thursday did not address the merits of the complaints. The judge essentially ordered attorneys for the state Department of Correction and the prisoners to work out a system in which cameras would cover blind spots and digital videos from them would be kept long enough to be used by any prisoners who file complaints.

“They’re in your control,” Boyle told the attorneys for the prison system. “It’s not like they can send you a postcard or email when a problem arises.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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