Ex-prison warden wins suit over violence by inmates, guards

A federal jury on Thursday rejected claims the former warden of one of North Carolina's most dangerous prisons bore responsibility for life-threatening threats posed by inmates and even guards in the gang-infested lockup.

Lawyers for convicted killer Stacey Wynn contended that former Lanesboro Correctional Institution superintendent Lawrence Parsons should be held accountable after Wynn was stabbed in the chest in 2011 and beaten so badly he suffered lingering injuries. But jurors decided Parsons wasn't indifferent to the culture of violence that endangered inmates.

The lawsuit is the first of five by inmates who charge that Lanesboro employees allowed or even encouraged prisoners to attack them.

Wynn sued Parsons, claiming his life was endangered because the administrator didn't rein in one of the 1,800-inmate-capacity prison's unit administrators. Jeffrey Wall, who headed the prison's Union Unit, seemed to favor Bloods gang members, allowed the criminals to attack others and hid a collection of bloody stabbing weapons in the ceiling of his office, Wynn's attorneys said.

Gang members armed with homemade weapons killed Lanesboro inmate Wesley Turner during a 2012 fight.

"Parsons knew from talking to injured inmates that their attackers had been allowed by Union staff to possess weapons, leave their cell pods, pass through controlled secured doors opened by staff, and to enter other pods in Union Unit to commit these attacks," U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney wrote this year in summarizing Wynn's complaints and deciding the lawsuit should proceed. "Parsons knew from reports from detention officers that gang culture had infiltrated management and supervision of Union Unit, and he did nothing with that information."

Wall was fired in 2013 after he was barred from the Lanesboro prison and tried to force his way back in to retrieve the knives, homemade shanks, metal rods and videos of his unit hidden in his office ceiling, according to his dismissal letter provided to The Associated Press after a public records request. Wall also displayed a gun in his vehicle and threatened that he could "get anyone" from outside the prison, his dismissal letter said.

Parsons retired in 2016 after nearly 30 years, state records show.

State attorneys defending Parsons said he acted reasonably to protect inmates. Parsons testified Monday that his staff "searched diligently" for weapons after fights, but acknowledged they were not always recovered, The Charlotte Observer reported. A prison report on the Wynn assault said no weapon was found.

Lanesboro prison, about 45 miles east of Charlotte, has been so violent for so long that state officials in April announced they are moving the men out over the course of this year and repopulating it with female prisoners.

One of Parsons' successors, David Mitchell, was stabbed in the neck by an inmate in 2014, one of three times he was attacked by inmates.

Wynn, 47, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. He was on a cocaine binge when he murdered two people in 2005 in New Hanover County. He beat to death a 66-year-old man with a toilet seat lid after tying his hands and feet. Two days later, Wynn lured another man to a dead-end road by offering to buy drugs, then shot the dealer in the head and stole his cocaine and cash.

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