ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. – Four North Carolina inmates face murder charges in the deaths of two workers in their sewing program after trying to burn, stab and slash their way out of prison. The state's public safety chief expressed outrage Friday that certain violent inmates had access to cutting tools, and announced a thorough review and temporary ban on such prison jobs.
The men were behind the failed breakout from Pasquotank Correctional Institution on Oct. 12, state prison officials said. The inmates set a fire inside a prison sewing plant to divert guards and apparently planned to climb over prison fences, Pasquotank County Sheriff Randy Cartwright said last week.
Correctional officer Justin Smith, 35, and vocational worker Veronica Darden, 50, were killed and eight other prison workers were injured by what Cartwright said appeared to be primarily stabbing or slashing wounds. Two of the employees of the Elizabeth City prison remain in critical condition, so more charges are possible, Cartwright said Friday.
Accused of murder are 28-year-old Mikel Brady, 29-year-old Wisezah D. Buckman, 30-year-old Jonathan M. Monk and 33-year-old Seth J. Frazier.
At a press conference, Cartwright wouldn't describe the relationship among the four inmates or provide any new details of their plan, except to say that investigators had found no tunnels.
Brady was already serving time for attempted murder after shooting a state trooper who pulled him over in Durham in 2013. He was a fugitive, wanted in Vermont on a probation violation, when he shot the trooper at close range in the face, hands and right shoulder.
Buckman, of Charlotte, was convicted of murder after fatally shooting one co-worker and wounding another in a 2014 dispute.
Monk was a Fort Bragg soldier who broke into the home of a sergeant with whom he had a conflict in 2011, and then surprised the sergeant's wife, slashing and stabbing her with a kitchen knife. She survived and Monk was convicted of attempted murder.
Frazier, a convicted sex offender, was serving time for burglary after breaking into a home near the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in 2011 and surprising a teenage girl in her bed.
All four have been transferred to maximum-security prisons near Raleigh. A grand jury will consider additional charges on Oct. 30, Cartwright said.
Hours after the charges were announced, the head of the agency that runs the state's prisons announced new steps to reduce risks posed by inmates in prison work programs such as the sewing plant at Pasquotank. Darden taught work skills in the sewing plant, while Smith provided security.
"As a career law enforcement professional, I am outraged that someone who was convicted of attempting to murder a North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper, as well as the other inmates who also were convicted of violent attacks, were allowed to work in an environment where they had access to tools that could be used as weapons," state Public Safety Department Secretary Erik Hooks said in a statement.
The department said it would review the backgrounds of the 2,300 inmates working at behind-bars tasks such as pressing license plates, washing clothes for customers including U.S. Veterans Affairs hospitals and growing and packaging vegetables. Inmates convicted of assaults or a violent crime against a government official or law officer will be at least temporarily barred from jobs using cutting implements or impact tools, like a hammer.
The Pasquotank sewing plant will be permanently shut down, and more guards will be assigned to security in all Correction Enterprises, the agency said.