Midtown Raleigh News

Inmates who witnessed jailhouse confrontation say officer used excessive force

Shon McClain, who is on life support after an June 4 altercation with a Wake County detention officer.
Shon McClain, who is on life support after an June 4 altercation with a Wake County detention officer. Wake County Sheriff’s Office

The investigation into the altercation that claimed a Wake County inmate’s life is still underway, but two other men who also were in custody at the jail have sent letters to The News & Observer claiming they were eyewitnesses to the incident.

The N.C. State Medical Examiner’s Office in Raleigh has not yet made public the cause of inmate Shon Demetrius McClain’s death, but the attorney representing McClain’s family said McClain suffered a broken neck, spinal cord injuries and brain damage.

McClain, 40, was booked into the Wake County jail May 28 on misdemeanor charges for drinking alcohol in the bus depot at Moore Square in downtown Raleigh and failing to appear in court for possession of drug paraphernalia, state records show.

After his arrest, McClain and Detention Officer Markeith Council were involved in an altercation on the night of June 5. McClain was taken to WakeMed, where he remained on life support until he died less than a week later, attorney Jessie Jeffers said.

Capt. James Stevens, a spokesman with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, reported that Council also received minor injuries as a result of the confrontation, but at least two inmates who were being held in the 1F housing unit of the jail where the incident took place say McClain never landed a punch.

Jeffers’ request for an investigation into the incident contends that Council picked the dead man up twice and both times slammed his head on the facility’s concrete floor.

One witness’s account

Braderick Deshawn Peak, 37, of Raleigh, was booked into the jail the same day as McClain for violating the terms of his probation after he was convicted in 2011 of two felony drug charges and felony assault.

In a three page letter to The News & Observer last week, Peak claimed that Council physically provoked the confrontation and then used excessive force that severely injured McClain.

According to arrest records, McClain was about 5-feet, 7-inches tall and weighed 145 pounds. Inmates say Council is about 6-feet, 3-inches tall and weighs close to 300 pounds.

“I now take sleeping meds for what I seen and wish day to day that I would have stopped it,” Peak wrote.

According to Peak, McClain told Council that if the detention officer had slammed his finger in a door that “it would have been some problems.”

“What type?” Council asked.

“It would have been some problems,” McClain answered.

Council responded that he “would smack fire out of his little ass.”

The two were “face-to-face” when Council pushed McClain to the floor, Peak wrote. McClain “fell, got up and swung.”

When the punch missed, Council picked McClain up and slammed him on his neck, Peak wrote.

“I tried to stop the officer,” he wrote. But Council picked McClain up again and slammed him to the floor on his head.

“… I feared the worst for the inmate,” Peak wrote.

Peak was released June 22, a Wake County jail spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday. State records show that he was transferred that day to the Craven Correctional Institute, a medium security prison in Vanceboro.

A second witness

A letter sent to the N&O by James Elvin Alston III, 21, of Raleigh, described the incident as “murder.”

Alston was booked into the jail on May 13 and remains in custody on charges of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and possession of a firearm by a felon, the jail spokeswoman reported.

“I was a witness to everything that happened from beginning to end,” Alston wrote. “Plus, everything could have been avoided if one of the three sergeants would have come to see McClain about the problem he was having with Council.”

Alston said the incident started when Council nearly slammed the inmate’s hands in the trap hole, which correction officers must unlock to open a door. Alston wrote that “Council went into a rage”when McClain said something about nearly getting his fingers caught in the trap hole.

“One of the things [Council] said to him was he was gon’ kill him!” Alston wrote. “I and about 50 to 54 other inmates witnessed Council slam McClain on his head, not once but twice. We spoke with the SBI.”

Atmosphere of intimidation

Both Peak and Alston described an atmosphere of intimidation and the threat of violence from some of the detention officers.

“[Sheriff] Donnie [Harrison] need to talk to or weed out these bad apples,” Peak wrote. “They are big and they use that to intimidate you and it’s a shame. Their bad day is your nightmare.”

The SBI will submit their findings to Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby after the investigation is completed.

Neither Willoughby nor Jeffers was available for comment this week.

State justice spokeswoman Noelle Talley said on Tuesday she was not sure when the investigation would be completed.

“It just depends,” she said. “Each case is a little different depending on the specifics of the case.”

Stevens declined to comment further while that investigation continues.

Council, meanwhile, returned to work after recovering from his injuries and has been assigned to administrative duties while the SBI investigates, Stevens said last month.

News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.