Disturbing grievances leveled by inmates at Sampson Correctional Institution have placed the facility’s superintendent and a correctional officer on investigatory leave pending both an internal investigation and a possible criminal probe by the State Bureau of Investigation.
Pamela Walker, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, confirmed the suspensions Wednesday morning of superintendent Lafayette Hall and correctional officer David P. Jones.
“They are technically on investigatory placement at this time and will remain so until the outcome of this investigation,” Walker said.
The suspensions come on the heels of allegations by six inmates that corrections staff had forced them to perform myriad humiliating acts for the entertainment of the officers, including stripping nude and pretending to have sex. The six, who sent a handwritten letter to the U.S. District Court in Greensboro back in July, claim they were also forced to drink hot sauce and rub it on their genital areas, grab and kiss snakes when they were part of crews working on Sampson roads and toss rabbits that had been captured into oncoming traffic.
Those forced to perform the acts, the allegations claim, were rewarded by the officers with better work assignments, food, cigarettes and beer, two items banned in the state’s prisons.
“In this particular case, the allegations caused us so much concern that it prompted the personnel actions taken this week,” Walker stressed.
The prison system, Walker noted, learned of the allegations through grievances filed by the inmates and began the investigatory process, something that is initiated with every grievance leveled by anyone incarcerated in one of the state’s facilities.
“There is a grievance process that we follow any time inmates have concerns. What happens depends upon what level the grievance reaches, but all are investigated. They may not always reach the level of a full-blown investigation like this one, but they are each looked into,” Walker explained.
Based on the allegations and the information received, the internal personnel investigation was initiated and the SBI was called in to conduct a review.
“We are now waiting to hear whether the SBI will open a formal investigation into these allegations,” Walker said.
According to the Associated Press, Gov. Bev. Perdue has said, “I have zero tolerance for unprofessional conduct by any state employee. I have directed the Department of Public Safety to cooperate fully with the SBI review of the allegations and to take appropriate action if these allegations prove to be true.”
Walker said to her knowledge this was the first such allegations made about the Sampson facility.
In their letter to the U.S> District Court, the inmates asked for assistance in finding lawyers to help them file a lawsuit against the state and noted fear of retaliation from the prison staff.