The State Bureau of Investigation is conducting a wide-ranging probe into accusations of official misconduct at an Anson County prison that has been shaken by violence, contraband and allegations that inmates were mistreated.
The investigation at Lanesboro Correctional Institution was spawned by a separate SBI inquiry into the September 2012 stabbing death of inmate Wesley Turner. Three fellow inmates were charged with first-degree murder after Turner’s death.
“On a request from the DA, they opened a second SBI investigation into some allegations that were raised against some officials at the prison,” state Justice Department spokeswoman Noelle Talley said.
The second probe began in January and is “still very much an active investigation,” Talley said. Among other things, agents are looking at contraband at the prison and allegations of official misconduct, the spokeswoman said.
Last month, searches at Lanesboro found numerous weapons, cellphones and marijuana. It’s unclear how the contraband got into the prison.
But in North Carolina and other states, corrections officers have sometimes played a key role in helping inmates get drugs and cellphones.
In response to a request by the Observer, state corrections officials in 2011 released the names of 20 corrections officers who had been suspected of bringing contraband drugs onto prison property. All but one had resigned or been fired in the previous three years.
Among them was former Lanesboro corrections officer Ricky Hutchings, who resigned in December 2009 after a routine search found he was carrying a half-pound of marijuana into the prison.
In 2011, the Anson County Sheriff’s Office arrested Jamarr Parker, another former Lanesboro corrections officer who was suspected of smuggling marijuana and cellphones into the prison.
Earlier this year, police arrested a corrections officer at nearby Brown Creek Correctional Institution who is accused of selling synthetic marijuana to an inmate.
A spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, which oversees state prisons, said the department is “working closely with the SBI” on the investigation but declined further comment.
The recent searches at Lanesboro followed a Nov. 15 assault on a corrections officer, who was attacked with an improvised weapon.
The prison’s 850 close-custody inmates have been on lockdown since the assault. That means they’re denied telephone access and confined to their cells at all times, except for three showers a week. During normal operations, prisoners are locked in their cells during inmate counts and after “lights out” at night.
The public safety spokeswoman said the close-custody unit remains on lockdown to ensure “the safety and security of staff and inmates.”
Located in Polkton, about 45 miles east of Charlotte, Lanesboro has repeatedly drawn media scrutiny after inmate deaths and allegations of improper conduct by corrections officers. The prison houses many suspected gang members.
Last year, a North Carolina inmate filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Lanesboro corrections officers cracked his skull with a baton and then destroyed a surveillance video that showed the assault.
And in 2009, an inmate was repeatedly pepper-sprayed after requesting medical help.
The state has changed the prison’s leadership several times in recent years.
Wendell Hargrave, an assistant regional manager with the system, was named the prison’s acting administrator in April. He took over from former administrator Lawrence Parsons, who was reassigned pending a review of operations at Lanesboro.
With a staff of a little more than 500, the prison is designed to hold 1,400 close- and medium-custody inmates.