Feds, state investigating gangs at NC prison

aalexander@charlotteobserver.com cwootson@charlotteobserver.comJune 26, 2014 

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The Lanesboro Correctional Institution in Polkton is the target of a wide-ranging investigation into gang activity and other problems at the high-security prison.

ROBERT LAHSER — rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

— State and federal officials Wednesday converged on Lanesboro Correctional Institution, an Anson County prison that has been shaken by violence, contraband smuggling and allegations of wrongdoing by corrections officers.

N.C. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Pamela Walker said her agency asked the FBI to assist in a wide-ranging investigation into gang activity and other problems at the high-security prison.

Wednesday’s show of force, she said, represented an unprecedented collaboration among numerous agencies, including the State Highway Patrol, the FBI, the state Prison Emergency Response Team, and the State Bureau of Investigation.

She called the partnership an “effort to show united support in protecting our staff, inmates and the general public.”

Officials searched the prison for contraband Wednesday and came up with one cellphone, Walker said.

In December, the Observer reported that the SBI was conducting a probe into accusations of official misconduct.

The investigation 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.

Shanks in the ceiling

New court documents shed light on Turner’s death – and raise questions about the role played by one former unit manager at Lanesboro.

Nearly a year after Turner’s death, SBI agent Audria Bridges was investigating the case when she was informed that an officer at the prison had information to share, according to a search warrant affidavit released this month.

The officer said that a former unit manager at the prison, Jeffery Wall, had called, asking the officer to go into Wall’s former office and “look in the ceiling for a bag of shanks,” according to the affidavit.

Shanks are homemade knives. They’re considered dangerous contraband in prisons.

Wall, previously a manager in the unit where the deadly fight broke out, had been reassigned to another facility, according to the affidavit.

The SBI agent and a prison captain then went into Wall’s former office and retrieved three envelopes containing metal and plastic objects, the affidavit states. The SBI agent observed that at least one of the items was “a metal blade-type object with a white cloth wrapped around one end and having brown stains about same.”

Bridges later listened in on a speakerphone when Wall called the prison a second time and asked the corrections officer what was going on inside the prison.

Wall then asked the officer “to not say anything” and said he would get someone else to retrieve the items, the affidavit states.

Reached at his home Wednesday evening, Wall declined to comment about the investigation or his actions as a Lanesboro corrections officer.

He confirmed that he had been the subject of an investigation but said he had been dismissed from the prison for other reasons. He wouldn’t elaborate.

“I was dismissed,” he said. “I thought it was done with.”

History of trouble

Located in Polkton, about 45 miles east of Charlotte, Lanesboro has repeatedly drawn scrutiny after inmate deaths and allegations of improper conduct by corrections officers. The prison houses many suspected gang members.

Starting in November 2013, more than 800 inmates at the prison were put on lockdown for several months after an attack injured a corrections officer. Subsequent searches at the prison found numerous cellphones, improvised weapons and marijuana.

In 2012, an 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.

With a staff of a little more than 500, the prison is designed to hold 1,400 inmates. Staff researcher Maria David and staff writers Hannah Jeffrey and Gavin Off contributed.

Alexander: 704-358-5060

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