Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Officers’ bravery on the job wins national honor

A national association has honored two Pasquotank Correctional Institution officers for their courageous response during an assault on one of them last year.
Sgt. Brian Eason and Officer Cassie Fueston
The American Correctional Officers Association presented a Gold Medal of Honor to Correctional Officer Cassie Fueston and Sgt. Brian Eason on Oct. 14 during the group’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

Officer Fueston’s award was presented “for her bravery and persistence” when she was ambushed by an inmate armed with two handmade weapons.

The inmate stabbed Officer Fueston multiple times in the stomach and back and punched her in the face. Officer Fueston was able to deter the attack just long enough to exit the dorm. At that time, Sgt. Brian Eason entered the dorm to subdue the inmate.

Without pause or regard for her lacerations, puncture wounds, and painful swelling, Officer Fueston re-entered the dorm to assist Sgt. Eason.

“We recognize Officer Fueston ... for her active and unrelenting service during a safety-compromising situation on the job,” the officers association stated.

Sgt. Eason's Gold Medal of Honor was for “his selfless assistance” to Officer Fueston. He responded when he heard Officer Fueston screaming while she was being violently assaulted.

While Officer Fueston was breaking away from the inmate and his assault, Sgt. Eason advanced toward the inmate and quickly neutralized the threat. Sgt. Eason used a take-down maneuver to subdue the inmate on the floor.

The officers association stated, “For his bravery and instinctual assistance to a colleague in need, Sergeant Eason well deserves the honor bestowed on him.”

Both Officer Fueston and Sgt. Eason were injured and received outpatient treatment at a local hospital.

Officer Fueston has been at Pasquotank CI since July 2007, and Sgt. Eason has been employed there since February 2007.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Walk in My Shoes – Community Threat Group probation officer

The Public Affairs Office is introducing a new feature to the blog. Periodically, you will be able to read about DOC employees who work in a variety of roles to get an idea of the many different jobs there are in the department. Following is our first “Walk in My Shoes” blog.
Charlie High

  When he meets an offender assigned to him for the first time probation officer Charlie High’s first question is, “Do you know why you are assigned to me?” His response is that they are either an identified gang member or the courts felt the offender should be supervised with special conditions normally used for gang members.

  As a Community Threat Group (CTG) officer in Wake County, High supervises a caseload of approximately 70 offenders who are predominantly gang members. It’s no easy task, but High’s law enforcement background, coupled with a desire to help young people, appear to be the right personality traits to do the job.

  High tells his new offenders that he’ll be straight with them and that they need to be straight with him in return. He knows he has a reputation for being tough, but fair. Several offenders have told him that they heard that Officer High does not play so don’t lie to him.

  Like all probation officers, the CTG officers must conduct an assessment of each offender. That validated assessment measures an offender’s risk of re-arrest and his or her criminogenic needs related to things such as dysfunctional family environment, criminal peers, antisocial behavior and values, and substance abuse. The outcome of that assessment determines the offender’s level of supervision, which dictates how the probation/parole officers will supervise the offender. In addition, the officers help ensure that offenders know what is expected of them. They work closely with law enforcement officers in a variety of agencies. They verify offender residences and employment; drug screen offenders and figure out how to steer their offenders down a path to succees while completing the court’s orders.

  A former military police officer in the U.S. Army, High says when he first became a probation officer he thought the best thing for him to do was to be tough and that he needed to come at them hard, but he soon found out that is not the most effective way.

  “You have to be similar to a doctor and show them some compassion, but at the same time keep your professional distance,” said High. He added, “I try to figure out what is going to work with each offender and carefully explain the conditions that they must adhere to and what those conditions mean.”

  The conditions may include curfew; prohibiting contact with known gang members; staying out of known gang areas; and in some cases warrantless searches. High says he always does the searches with another gang task force member for safety reasons. The other gang officers all know how dangerous some of these individuals can be and they also know what to look out for.

  That support shared amongst all of the CTG officers and their supervisors is so important says High. We are all willing to help each other out, share intelligence and vent to each other, he said. He says they have a real chemistry that helps them to do their jobs and deal with some real serious offenders.

  “Many of these gang members feel that you have three choices in life,” said High. He explained that they think the choices are to be a lawmaker, a follower or a lawbreaker. By choosing to be a lawbreaker, some feel that the only way they will have real success is to put all their energy and effort into it and that they will earn status with every crime they commit. That status means power to many of them, which is what makes them so dangerous.

  Officer High says knows that he’s always going to have those offenders who don’t want his help, but he also knows there are many who truly want something better in life. Because of that, High tries to avoid labels and judgment of his offenders. He always strives to give them a chance to show that they mean what they say and if they show a desire to change, he’ll help them do just that.

  One of High’s success stories is an offender that we’ll call Joe. When Joe first met Officer High, Joe was pretty high up in a well-known gang, but he told his new probation officer he wanted out of that lifestyle.  High says he observed the offender’s actions and felt Joe really wanted to change so he gave Joe a shot.  He started inviting Joe to listen in on Officer High’s gang information presentations to community groups. Eventually Joe started feeling comfortable answering audience questions. High says Joe took pride in that and has successfully completed his probation and so far has stayed out of trouble.

  When asked what motivates him to continue working with this high-risk group of offenders and the stress that comes with the job, Officer High said, “It’s knowing how things could be and knowing that you can play a role in helping someone succeed. For all of us, offender or not, if you know that someone is willing to give you a chance, it can make all the difference in the world.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Irene prompts activation of Prison Emergency Response Teams

A big blue ball of fire that sent sparks onto his windshield is an image James Cavanaugh’s won’t soon forget. The Prison Emergency Response Team (PERT) commander for the Division of Prisons Eastern Region was on his way to Greenville after being called in to help as Hurricane Irene roared into North Carolina.
Cavanaugh said the wind was blowing a lot of limbs and trees, which may have caused debris to hit the transformer and burst into flames. He hoped it was not a sign of his day ahead.

Eastern Region PERT commander Danny Cavanaugh directs
team members during a recent escape exercise.
That Saturday morning, the original plan was for Cavanaugh to meet with other PERT members and maintenance workers at Craven Correctional Institution in Vanceboro, but he could not get there due to flooded roads. The meeting point was changed to Greenville, but that was not an easy trip either, still requiring a few detours.
“I had to take a lot of side roads and go out of my way to zig zag back and forth alternating between side roads and main roads avoiding high water and downed trees,” Cavanaugh explained.

Once he got to Greenville he and Elmo Meeks, maintenance supervisor, were asked to travel to Pamlico Correctional Institution in Bayboro to assess Irene damage and help determine if the prison needed to be evacuated.  John Herring, assistant superintendent at Maury Correctional Institution; Andy Hughes, maintenance supervisor; and Joseph Smith, correctional officer, joined them. The group had to take the same approach Cavanaugh had, often taking detours, to navigate their way to Bayboro.

“It was really dark, rainy, windy and lots of trees were down. One blocked our way on NC Highway 43 so we detoured and then on NC Highway 17 there was another huge tree in the road,” said Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh described a man sitting in his car off the highway stuck in a swampy area. He had apparently tried to get around the tree, but wound up stuck instead. Cavanaugh says they offered him help, but he said some friends were on their way to tow him out. The group used a chain saw on the massive tree in order to move a section off the road so they could keep making progress to the prison.

“When we got to the prison, there was debris all over the fence. Inside there was water coming down the walls and in some cells.”

He added that they had intermittent generator power and that the group’s recommendation was to get the staff and inmates out. After weighing options, managers initiated the evacuation plan.

James Tuck, PERT commander for the Central Region, was at the Eastern Region Office in Greenville awaiting his directions. While there, a big tree crashed onto the roof of the office building where they were meeting.

Tuck a team of PERT members, correctional staff and maintenance loaded up in approximately 25 buses, vans and cars headed to Bayboro to assist in the evacuation. They also had a treacherous trip.

“It was pitch-black, rainy and the wind could be felt pushing the vehicle,” said Tuck. “The buses were in the lead because we were not always sure the vehicles would be able to make it through the high water so there was a lot of chatter on the radio telling people what was ahead.”

Tuck explained that they encountered no major obstacles along the way unless you count a 75-foot tree that had fallen across some power lines.

“Fifteen of us got out and used a chain saw to cut the tree down and to move the logs off the road,” said Tuck.

He added, “There was a sense of urgency because we knew we had to get to the facility to help with the evacuation.”

The convoy arrived without any serious issues and immediately made contact with Supt. Faye Daniels. The PERT members assisted with security procedures and inmate searches, preparing to load the buses.

The 17 buses were lined up in the prison parking lot with the drivers ready to take the inmates to Piedmont, Scotland and Nash and Polk Correctional Institutions and Central Prison. Nearly 24 hours after Tuck had arrived in Greenville to report for duty, his team prepared for about four to six hours on the road ensuring the buses and their passengers made it safely to their destinations.

Tuck said that at this point the sun was shining and the Department of Transportation had cleared most of the roads. The convoy of buses and chase vehicles all made it safely and without incident.

“This not something we do everyday, but it really made me proud to see all the teamwork,” said Tuck. “I cannot give enough praise to every PERT member, correctional officer or maintenance employee.”

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bus drivers move inmates safely through Irene's fury

Lt. Joshua Panter and Lead CO Benjamin Wood
They were hitting the road at dusk leaving Raleigh and headed into the direct path of Hurricane Irene. On that Saturday evening, Lt. Joshua Panter and Lead Officer Benjamin Wood of Central Prison did not know what to expect except that they were likely to encounter some rough weather and road conditions. They also knew they had an dangerous job to do— transfer 23 special control inmates out of Pamlico Correctional Institution in Bayboro. The prison was being evacuated due to a severely damaged roof and rains pouring in to the housing areas.

Lt. Panter described some of the things they saw along the way as they navigated east on Highway 70.
“It started to get really dark around Smithfield because power was out. I know it was difficult for Wood to see the lines in the roads because there was a blanket of pine needles on the highway,” explained Panter.
He added that the rain really started picking up in Wayne County and most towns they passed through were pitch-black. No power there either. Occasionally the headlights of the bus would light up uprooted trees and large branches along the highway.

“All I could think of was that this was going to be disastrous for North Carolina,” said Wood.
As the two got closer to Bayboro, they described going through a steady downpour and it was obvious others had recently traveled the same path because giant trees had been sawed into logs and pushed to the side of the road. Soon they learned that there was more work to be done to clear the way.

“We had to stop because there was a line about a half mile long of brake lights ahead,” described Panter. “I got out of the bus to see why everyone was stopped. There was a huge tree about 100 feet tall across the road that was resting on some power lines.”

Some Prison Emergency Response Team (PERT) members and others had a chain saw and were working on cutting the tree into pieces so it could be pushed off the road. Soon the logs were cleared and the line of buses and vans were able to make their way to the prison.

“It was impressive when we pulled up to the prison because in the dark you could see eight buses lined up with their strobe lights on the top beaming in the dark,” said Wood. He added, “I knew it was going to be a long night because we ended up being just one of the 17 buses that had arrived to transport inmates and there would be a lot of work to do to get the inmates ready to travel.”

He was right. Security checks had to be done on approximately 600 inmates. The inmate’s records jacket had to be gathered; a medical review completed on each inmate; and all their belongings had to be logged.

“As we waited, the rain started easing off. Since there was no power and no lights, and the clouds started moving out of the sky, the stars were really prominent and I could see flashes of lightning in the distance,” said Panter.

Around 5:30 Sunday morning, the buses were loaded and they lined up with those drivers who had the longest trip leading the way. The buses and the chase vehicles that provided additional security headed out to prisons in Salisbury, Maxton, Nashville, Butner and Raleigh.

Panter and Wood’s bus arrived in Raleigh around 10 that morning, which was about 15 hours after it had left. Everyone was safe and the inmates were secure in their temporary housing at Central Prison. All the buses that had picked up inmates at Pamlico CI arrived safely at their destinations too.

The officers both said it was a night they would remember forever. They commented that it was adrenaline and knowing they had an important job to do that carried them through.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Prisons’ emergency command takes action during Irene

Scott Peele, Randy Lee, Mary Beth Carroll and Loris Sutton at
work in the Central Command post during Hurricane Irene.
Intense, fast-paced, focused— those are just some of the adjectives Cynthia Bostic used to describe what it was like to work in the Division of Prisons Command Center on the day Hurricane Irene hit North Carolina. That intensity really soared right before and when it was decided to evacuate Pamlico Correctional Institution in the middle of the hurricane.

Many in the command center were answering phones keeping track of damage reports and power and phone outages at prisons. In the background, voices could be heard over the VIPER radio from staff at facilities that had no other way to communicate. Employees in the command center were documenting all the needs and who was responding on a white board or flip charts.

Cynthia Bostic

“It was what some might call controlled chaos,” said Bostic. “We all really had to be focused on the tasks to be done and at the same time keep an ear open to other things happening that may impact our plans.”

Bostic has been the division’s assistant director of Support Services for one year. This was her first time working in the command center in this capacity. One of her many duties on a normal basis is to supervise the population management section which directs the admission and movement of inmates. That was a key issue to stay on top of when three prisons had to be evacuated.

The division had already evacuated Hyde Correctional Institution and Tyrrell Prison Work Farm on Friday using about 40 buses from a dozen prisons from as far as Charlotte and transferring approximately 1,300 inmates to ten different prisons.

Then on Saturday, during the height of the storm, the command center’s activity level soared. Managers decided, after very careful review, to evacuate Pamlico Correction Institution, which meant correctional staff would need to move an additional 620 inmates.

The Central Command had many logistics to work out— which facilities could take these inmates; which prisons could provide buses, drivers and correctional staff to help move the inmates; and the Prison Emergency Response Team (PERT) would need to be activated to provide security for the inmate transport.

“The energy level at the command center rose because we all knew we had to get this done,” said Bostic. She described how staff really took charge of their roles. She said they showed leadership and tenacity.

Approximately 16 hours after the decision was made to evacuate Pamlico CI, the first of the 17 buses pulled out headed to prisons in Salisbury, Maxton, Nashville, Butner and Raleigh. Several hours later, the Central Command received word that the last bus had arrived at its destination and all the inmates had been transported safely and without incident.

Bostic said, “We could not have done this without a massive amount of teamwork. The Central Command, the other two command centers, the staff at the evacuated prisons, the staff at the prisons who took in additional inmates, the bus drivers, the correctional staff and PERT members who provided security, the maintenance crews, engineers, Correction Enterprises, the warehouse, the medical staff and everybody in between all played an important role.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

DOC takes action in the eye of the storm

Department of Correction engineers and maintenance employees
survey the damage to the roof of Pamlico Correctional Institution
in Bayboro. High winds from Hurricane Irene caused serious
damage to the medium security prison.
The Department of Correction manages inmate transfers statewide on a daily basis, but rarely does it have to empty three prisons with nearly 1,900 inmates in just a couple of days. Hurricane Irene forced the department to do just that and one of those evacuations was completed in the middle of the hurricane.

That awesome task was carried out by a number of department employees-- too many to count or name. But their incredible organization, teamwork and cool heads resulted in every one of those inmates being moved safely, securely and without incident.

On Thursday, two days before the eye of Hurricane Irene was expected on the coast, the Division of Prisons (DOP) set up three command posts in anticipation of the hurricane and to prepare for anything to come. First the decision was made to evacuate Hyde Correctional Institution, a medium security facility in Swan Quarter, and Tyrrell Correctional Center, a minimum security facility in Columbia.  Both appeared to be in the path of the storm and based on flooding and structural concerns, prison and local emergency managers determined the evacuations were the right thing to do.

By the next day, buses from as far as Charlotte and Scotland County were on the road with Prison Emergency Response Team (PERT) members mobilized to provide security. Correction Enterprises and Central Warehouse trucks were enroute to pick up mattresses for the inmates to sleep on; prison managers that would be receiving inmates were notified; additional staff were scheduled; and all evacuating inmates had their belongings inventoried and medical evaluations completed.

Saturday morning, Hurricane Irene was just arriving on the North Carolina coast. The winds were whipping around Pamlico Correctional Institution, a medium security prison in Bayboro with more than 500 inmates, and the torrential rains started pouring down. Irene’s winds ripped at the prison’s roof eventually peeling it back, piece by piece. That afternoon, when the roof started leaking in one housing area, the superintendent and her staff started moving inmates to other parts of the prison. Soon the water started leaking in more places.

A team of maintenance supervisors deployed to see if anything could be done. They knew that the only two roads leading into the prison were flooded and downed trees blocked many nearby roads. Armed with chain saws, road maps and a sheer will to get there, the team made their way to the prison in about four hours -- normally a hour and a half trip. It did not take long for them to recommend that this prison, too, needed to be evacuated.

Department managers concurred, but the decision was not made lightly. While managers knew they had to do something for the staff and inmates at Pamlico, another major concern was putting bus drivers and other  staff on the roads in the middle of a hurricane with strong winds and torrential rain. It was not easy to ask them to go to work while leaving their families at home, but most understood the important job they had to do. Complicating matters was the fact that much of the eastern part of the state had no power . There would be no streetlights or traffic signals to help them navigate through the debris and downed trees that they would likely encounter.

When the decision was confirmed, the command centers jumped into action again with even more urgency because everyone was concerned for the staff and the inmates as Irene continued her path of destruction. Everyone involved knew many tasks needed to be completed. An incredible amount of logistical work had to be completed quickly and efficiently. They identified space at other facilities; notified the managers at those prisons to be ready to house, feed, and secure more inmates; and mobilized more buses, drivers and PERT members.

Back at Pamlico, without power, phones and with only intermittent cell phone service, they prepared the inmates for a long trip. They relied on emergency lights operated by generator or plugged into buses equipped with power outlets. The inmates’ belongings were inventoried; medical jackets were reviewed; and correctional staff kept the inmates under control as they anxiously awaited bus rides to their new assignments.

All the inmates were transported safely to their new locations within 12-to-14 hours. All of this was done in consultation with Emergency Management and the Highway Patrol, but it was completed by DOC employees without having to pull additional resources from the emergency responders who were already very busy with the storm. The very large, multi-faceted team of Department of Correction employees should be commended for an incredible job well done!

Look for additional stories on Hurricane Irene in the coming days. Emergency command workers, bus drivers, security personnel and others will share their experiences.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Probation officer nabs robbery suspect

A Polk County probation/parole officer nabbed the suspect in the armed robbery of a pharmacy in Columbus on Aug. 15.

Officer Ben Lynch was at the home of probationer Anthony Constance later the same day, checking on a tip that Constance had drugs in violation of his supervision terms. Also at the house was Michael Bolling, who was being sought for holding up a pharmacy for the powerful painkiller Oxycontin.

Lynch had gone to Constance’s house to secure him, because the sheriff’s office had gotten a tip that Bolling had been seen there earlier. Constance is a known drug user, serving 24 months of supervision for growing marijuana.

Neither Lynch nor the Sheriff’s Office suspected that Bolling would be at Constance’s house, selling Oxycontin to the probationer. Deputies were searching for Bolling at his home while Lynch was at the Constance residence.

While Bolling was charged with armed robbery, kidnapping and drug trafficking, Constance was charged with receiving stolen property, possession of a firearm by a felon, felony probation violation, possession of drug paraphernalia and three counts of possession of drugs.
The arrests made Lynch a bit anxious. About a month ago he had charged with Constance with felony possession of firearms in violation of probation. Additionally, he knew that the pharmacy robbery suspect had allegedly been armed.

Law enforcement officials credited multiple-agency cooperation with the quick apprehension of the robbery suspect.

Read more from the Hendersonville Times News on

Monday, July 18, 2011

PERT helps save 3-year-old Halifax girl

Company B of the Central Region PERT was activated on Friday, July 15, to assist the Halifax County Sheriff's Department in the search for a missing 3-year-old girl.

The mutual aid request was to help in the search for the girl with special needs who had walked away from her home in Halifax sometime Friday morning. Rescuers were worried that the girl may have wandered near the Roanoke River, only about 200 yards away.

PERT members from Caledonia and Nash arrived first and, along with deputies, were able to locate the missing child sitting along the bank of the river unharmed around 1:55 p.m. Other PERT members were en route when they were notified of the rescue.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rocky path leads to great success story

Everyone loves a success story. Angela Dorman is one.

She made a dramatic change in her life about four years ago when she started working in the Department of Correction Central Engineering Department through the inmate work release program.

“I took what could have been a very detrimental thing in my life and turned it into a positive,” Dorman said.

She was hired by engineering/architectural supervisor George Sgouros to scan and file engineering documents. She had a thirst for learning and turned out high quality work, advancing to a contract employee upon her release. She now is a CAD operator and support administrator.

While working in the engineering department, Dorman, 43, attended Shaw University. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA in May with a degree in Sociology.

“If I had my own business and I wanted to hire a person that could help me at many levels, Angela would be the first person I would think about. This is how much I trust both her abilities and integrity,” Sgouros said. He added that her diligence and hard work won the respect and admiration of others in the CAD department.

Dorman hopes to continue her education by seeking a master’s degree in education or public health.

“I would like to contribute back to society in order to honor those who have helped me. Perhaps I can prevent even one person from travelling the same rocky path that I have travelled,” she added.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Swannanoa Volunteers Honored

Renda Dewitt
Volunteer of the Year
Brenda Jarra
Featured Speaker
Renda Dewitt was named Volunteer of the Year at the 2010 Volunteer Banquet in May at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women in Black Mountain. Brenda Jarra, program director of the Division of Prison’s Female Command, was featured speaker for the event in the Blue Ridge Assembly building.  Swannanoa Superintendent Debbie Hughes welcomed the many volunteers who provide valuable services at the facility.