Crime

Harnett jail officer: ‘I wish I had died that day’

Harnett County corrections officer John Clark, center, remains employed at the county jail. He faced no charges in the death of Brandon Bethea. A state medical examiner said Bethea’s death was a homicide.
Harnett County corrections officer John Clark, center, remains employed at the county jail. He faced no charges in the death of Brandon Bethea. A state medical examiner said Bethea’s death was a homicide. tlong@newsobserver.com

A Harnett County detention officer who shot an inmate three times with a Taser in 2011 told a New York newspaper on Tuesday that he wishes he – not the inmate – had died that day.

On Monday afternoon, The News & Observer published an exclusive video of the death of Brandon Bethea in the Harnett County jail in March 2011. No one was charged in Bethea’s death; no one was fired.

The story is part of the newspaper’s “Deadly Force” series about misconduct in the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office. The video, captured by jail surveillance cameras, had been described by elected officials in recent interviews as “disturbing.”

In March 2011, Brandon Bethea died in the Harnett County jail after being shot three times with a Taser by detention officer John Clark. A state medical examiner ruled Bethea's death a homicide, but no one has been punished. This edited version, d

The N&O had been unable to reach detention officer John Clark this year to talk about Bethea’s death.

Clark told the New York Daily News: “It was not done out of hate or malice or nothing like that. I wish I had died that day; that’s how bad I feel about it.”

The video was kept secret for five years until Harnett’s county attorney provided the footage to The N&O after a public records request this spring. Bethea’s family was forbidden from speaking about Bethea’s death after receiving a $350,000 settlement from Harnett County.

The video captures Bethea being led into a padded cell and having his handcuffs removed. Clark stood in the rear of a cluster of detention officers, hiding a Taser behind his back. The footage shows him stepping forward, and as Bethea backed away, firing Taser probes into Bethea’s chest. Bethea collapsed onto his stomach; as detention officers stood over him, Clark fired twice more, records show.

Jailers left Bethea alone in the cell for 20 minutes. Efforts to revive him failed.

At the time, Sheriff Larry Rollins told the media that officers had used the Taser on Bethea during an altercation. An incident report prepared by a sheriff’s detective days later conflicts with what is captured in the video.

In the video, after paramedics worked to revive Bethea, Clark can be seen needing medical attention. He was given a trash can in which to vomit and was later taken to a hospital on a stretcher.

Locke: 919-829-8927 or @MandyLockeNews

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