SBI probing jail altercation that left inmate on life support

Prison rumor was that inmate was suffering from a seizure and needed help when CO handcuffed him, picked him up and slammed him on his head twice on a concrete floor

By Thomas McDonald
The News & Observer

RALEIGH — The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating an altercation between an inmate and a Wake County Detention Center officer last week that left the inmate severely injured and on life support, according to Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman with the N.C. Department of Justice.

“He hasn’t been responsive since arriving at the hospital,” said Raleigh attorney Jessie Jeffers, who is representing the injured inmate, Shon Demetrius McClain, 40, of Apex. “The family has to make a decision about his quality of life. The doctors are focusing on whether he is brain dead and trying to determine how much brain activity is there.”

Capt. James Stevens, a spokesman with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, said Wednesday the detention officer involved in the altercation was Markeith Council, who was hired by the sheriff’s office on Aug. 12, 2009.

Council was briefly relieved of his duties to recover from injuries he received, and is not back at work, Stevens reported.

Several individuals released from the detention center Wednesday afternoon said inmates have talked about little else since the incident took place just before 8:30 p.m. June 4 in the 1F housing unit of the seven-floor facility.

Keith Searcy, 46, of Rockingham County, had been in custody at the jail for 12 days before his case was dismissed in Wake County District Court on Wednesday.

The prison rumor was that McClain was suffering from a seizure and needed help when Council handcuffed him, picked him up and slammed him on his head twice on a concrete floor, Searcy said. Afterward, jail officials locked the facility down and ordered everyone to their cells, he said. Searcy looked out of the window in his cell door and saw paramedics come in and rush McClain out on a stretcher. A nurse who works at the jail was crying, he said.

“I got scared,” said Searcy. “That could have been me.”

That account is not entirely accurate, Jeffers said.

“He did not have any prior medical condition,” Jeffers said on Wednesday. “What I’m hearing is that some sort of verbal altercation took place. From there the question is did the officer act appropriately.”

He did not dispute accounts that Council, who stands about 6-feet, 3 inches tall and weighs close to 300 pounds, picked up McClain and twice slammed him head-first to the floor.

Stevens declined to talk about what might have happened while the SBI is investigating the incident.

Other past incidents

This is not the first time that an inmate at the detention center has been seriously injured or died as a result of confrontations with detention officers.

On May 28 – the same day that McClain was brought in on charges of failure to appear in court and consumption of alcohol in public – another inmate was reportedly assaulted. The officer involved, Jamaal Covington, was fired the next day for conduct unbecoming an officer, Stevens reported.

The state investigated an April 3, 2011 altercation at the jail that left 29-year-old inmate Joshua Wrenn unable to speak, walk or feed himself. The SBI determined that corrections officer Michael Hayes struck the man in the head with his fist.

But Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby did not press charges against the officer, because Hayes and another officer who says he witnessed the altercation, accused Wrenn, who was unarmed, of attacking Hayes.

Also, the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Jail & Detention Section said the jail did not provide adequate supervision for Ralph Madison Stockton IV, who was found unresponsive on a jail mat the morning of Nov. 6, 2012. Jailers are supposed to observe inmates at least twice an hour to make sure they are alive, but the state said Stockton had been unobserved for 62 minutes.

Jail director Dail Butler afterward said changes were underway – including the opening of the new detention center on Hammond Road – but he and other jail officials rejected the assertion by the state that the lack of supervision played a role in Stockton’s death.

No detention officers were criminally charged in the cases, Talley reported.

Jeffers said Wednesday that a surveillance video of last week’s incident is now in the hands of the SBI.

“There’s no audio,” he said.

Once the SBI completes their investigation, the findings will be turned over to the Wake County District Attorney’s Office.

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