NC prison warden promoted after alleged beatings

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 31, 2013

RALEIGH (AP) — The warden of North Carolina’s Central Prison has been promoted and given a 15 percent raise, less than two weeks after reports about a lawsuit alleging he failed to stop systematic beatings of handcuffed and shackled inmates held in solitary confinement at the Raleigh facility.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety confirmed Thursday that Central Prison administrator Kenneth Lassiter was named May 23 as director of 12 prisons in the state’s central region. There was no public announcement of Lassiter’s promotion, which takes effect Saturday.
The Associated Press reported May 10 that a federal complaint filed by North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services on behalf of eight inmates alleges they were beaten while prisoners in Unit One, a cell block known as “The Hole” where inmates are kept in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons. The lawsuit says correction officers carried out the beatings in a secluded area of holding cells inmates call “The Desert” because the area is not covered by video cameras.
Lassiter is one of 23 current or former prison employees named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The abuse claims are supported by medical records documenting blunt-force injuries that occurred while the prisoners were segregated from other inmates. They include broken bones, concussions and a shattered hip that has left one prisoner still unable to walk months later.
Public Safety spokeswoman Pam Walker declined comment on the pending litigation. Walker also refused to comment on whether new surveillance cameras and video recording equipment had been installed in Unit One following the lawsuit. She cited an exemption in the state’s public records law that allows the agency to withhold information, the release of which could imperil security. Asked if Lassiter’s job change was in any way tied to the abuse allegations, Walker responded: “Mr. Lassiter’s new position is a promotion.”
The lawsuit also names as a defendant former Central Prison administrator Gerald J. Branker. The Public Safety department announced Branker’s retirement in 2011 after the AP obtained a copy of a scathing internal review that found inmates with serious mental disorders were often kept in isolation for weeks, sometimes nude, in roach-infested cells smeared with human waste.
The new complaint, which claims that the problems at Central have grown even worse under Lassiter, details multiple cases of correctional officers allegedly using “unnecessary, excessive, malicious and sadistic force” that the inmates’ lawyers believe violates constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.
As part of his promotion, Lassiter’s annual salary will increase from $70,390 to $80,948.