Cooper directs prisons to improve security after fatal attack

By on October 16, 2017

Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden and Correctional Officer Justin Smith. (North Carolina Department of Public Safety)

State officials have suspended the inmate work program at the Pasquotank Correctional Center in Elizabeth City prison and ordered more officers in areas where inmates work.

The orders follow a fire and escape attempt Thursday that left two prison employees dead and 10 inhured.

On Friday, Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks and state prison leaders met with Governor Roy Cooper, who directed them to improve prison safety.


“We owe it to the public and to our employees to keep state prisons secure, and we owe it to these fallen employees and their families to learn all we can about what happened and take steps to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again,” Hooks said in a statement.

The statement listed steps it said the department was taking in an effort to improve safety:

  • Suspending Correction Enterprises operations at Pasquotank Correctional Institution while a thorough review of the program’s safety and security is completed.
  • Reviewing the safety of all Corrections Enterprises operations at all state prisons.
  • Increasing the number of correctional officers who provide security in Correction Enterprises areas, and increasing the number of rounds by the officer in charge within those areas until such time as we are able to conduct a security review to ensure the safety of employees.
  • Reviewing emergency procedures at all facilities to enhance safety and security. Conducting a complete facility search at Pasquotank Correctional Institution by 100 trained and well-equipped Prison Emergency Response Team members. The search will look for evidence as well as unrelated contraband that may be in the facility.
  • Correction Enterprises employs about 2,500 inmates statewide, teaching job skills in 17 different industries, while producing goods and providing services for government agencies.

Around 3 p.m. Thursday, inmates started a fire in the prison’s specialty sewing plant, where about 30 inmates work producing embroidered logo items, safety vests and other sewn items. The fire was extinguished. After the fire was set, several inmates tried to escape but were not successful.

Correctional Officer Justin Smith and Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden were killed by inmates in the escape attempt. Ten other prison employees were injured. Correctional Officers Wendy Shannon, Correctional Officer George Midgett, and maintenance worker Geoffrey Howe remain hospitalized for their injuries.

Pasquotank Sheriff Randy Cartwright reiterated Friday that no prisoners had escaped, in spite of numerous reports to the contrary on social media.


“We found no evidence that anybody left the yard,” Cartwright said. “This was not an escape.”

Cartwright also said the attempted escape wasn’t spontaneous, and several crime scenes throughout the prison were being processed. Numerous items that could be used as weapons were also discovered, he added.

The deadly fracas was confined to the sewing plant, Cartwright said, adding that the incident couldn’t be defined as a riot. The fire in the sewing plant was set, and as it was being put out, four inmates tried to escape, making it only as far as the yard of the sewing plant.


The four inmates believed to have been responsible for the escape attempt were also taken to Sentara Albemarle, and later transported to Polk Correctional Institute in Butner, where they were being held in the facility’s most secure area, Cartwright said.

The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Department and the State Bureau of Investigation are conducting a criminal investigation into the attack and attempted escape.

See what people are saying:

  • Carter McKay

    If Governor Cooper wants safety reforms at NC DPS, he should first start with Secretary Hooks and demand his resignation.

    Monday, Oct 16 @ 1:29 pm
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