Man’s Death a Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside a Prison Van

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There are so many questions about the March 12 death of a prisoner with significant mental illness and disabilities that a number of state agencies and a nonprofit advocacy organization are all investigating. The case garnered a good deal of attention at the time, but events this week may well have quashed any hope the North Carolina Department of Public Safety had of the matter fading into the background.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, five prison employees have lost their jobs and two more have resigned. Two nurses, a nurse supervisor and a captain were fired; a staff psychologist and another nurse resigned. Authorities are not done with their investigation yet, a spokeswoman told reporters, so there may be more  staff departures, either voluntary or involuntary.

The victim was serving a decades-long sentence at Alexander Correctional Institution, located in western North Carolina, after he discharged a firearm into two houses. This was not his first conviction, though. His record goes back almost 20 years, so he is considered a habitual felon. The past convictions were for crimes like larceny and breaking-and-entering.

It is not clear why he was sent to Alexander County. The facility offers some medical and mental health services, but most prisoners with issues like the victim’s are sent to Central Prison in Raleigh. He was, in fact, on his way to Central for medical treatment the morning he died: When the prison van arrived at Central Prison, the victim was unresponsive and could not be revived.

The question for investigators, then, is what happened in that prison van on that 165-mile drive to Raleigh? Rather, that is the central question. There are others. For example, why was the victim in solitary confinement for 45 days, the last 45 days of his life?

We’ll continue this in our next post.

Source: News & Observer, “Seven NC prison workers lose jobs over inmate’s death,” Craig Jarvis, April 9, 2014