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Report: North Carolina jail violated regulations in two deaths

An image of a jail cell
pixabay Creative Commons

A North Carolina jail violated regulations requiring guards to observe inmates at least twice an hour, according to a state agency probing the deaths of two inmates last spring.

On May 22, John Devin Haley of Charlotte, 41, was found hanging below his cell window at the Mecklenburg County jail with a strip of blanket tied around his neck, The Charlotte Observer reported. Haley had a history of addiction and mental health problems when he entered the jail on April 3 and was temporarily placed on suicide watch, according to jail records.

Karon Golightly of Gastonia died at the jail on May 14. Five months later, the cause of his death has not been made public, the newspaper reported.

In North Carolina, jailers are required to observe each inmate “at least twice an hour on an irregular basis, with no more than 40 minutes between rounds,” according to state regulations. That standard was repeatedly violated in the hours leading up to the two deaths, according to investigators with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

A DHHS report obtained by the newspaper says 52 minutes elapsed between the time Golightly was seen healthy and being discovered in distress in another inmate's cell. The state also pointed to a camera near where Golightly collapsed. The report said the camera apparently was malfunctioning on May 14 and “was unable to observe activity in and around” the cell.

The investigation into Haley's death also found that jail staff repeatedly failed to meet the twice-an-hour observation standard. In all, jailers made a dozen fewer trips than state regulations required to observe Haley on May 21 and May 22, according to the report.

Angie Grube, a spokeswoman for the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, said the investigations are ongoing. Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden declined several requests for comment, citing the SBI investigations.

The Mecklenburg County jail has been beset by troubles throughout 2021. A jailer was charged with sexually assaulting a transgender inmate and another detention officer was accused of fighting with an inmate. Last week, McFadden said, a female detention officer was fired and arrested after she had sex with an inmate. She is at least the fifth member of McFadden’s approximately 1,000-member staff terminated for alleged misconduct since June.

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