9 Investigates: Safety for NC prison workers after deadly 2017 attack

9 Investigates: Safety for NC prison workers after deadly 2017 attack

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The first of four inmates accused of killing four prison workers in an attempted escape is on trial for their murders.

Mikel Brady, 30, is facing the death penalty for his involvement in a brutal attack inside the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in eastern North Carolina two years ago.

Jurors who will decide his fate are now being selected.

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Channel 9's Allison Latos has been investigating the safety of prisons statewide since the deadly attack.

The lives of four families changed forever when inmates tried to escape by setting a fire inside the prison’s sewing plant on Oct. 12, 2017, before attacking employees with scissors and hammers.

Latos asked families members if they worried about their loved ones when they went to work every day, and the response was the same across the board -- yes.

Veronica Darden, the sewing plant manager, did not survive the attack.

Her daughter, Jasmine Herring said she deeply misses her mother's daily phone calls.

Darden's husband, Eric, said he feels lost.

“You really destroyed my life,” Herring said.

Maintenance mechanic Geoffrey Howe and correctional officers Justin Smith and Wendy Shannon were also killed.

“Wendy served 21 years in the military," Shannon’s sister Tammy Shannon Williams said. “She did four tours overseas -- not a scratch, not a broken bone. Then you come home, not even 10 miles from home, to be killed.”

Officer George Midgett, who survived the attack, said he vividly remembers the moment inmates began beating him.

“I was fairly certain I was going to die,” he said. “My face was covered in blood. I got hit from here all the way down. This was crushed. There was blood everywhere. I couldn't see.”

Sgt. Curtis Casper said he is still haunted every day by what he saw.

“I put my hands on Shannon and I put my hands on Howe," Casper said. “I remember pleading with Shannon. I said, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ and I went to feel for a pulse.”

Casper held inmates at gunpoint, so they couldn't escape the prison fence.

The sewing plant at Pasquotank is still shut down as officials focus on prison safety across the state, but Channel 9 learned the biggest challenge is finding manpower. As of August, 21% of correctional officer positions were vacant, which is nearly 2,000 jobs.

The state recently closed these three prisons and reassigned staff to prisons with high vacancies.

North Carolina prisons temporarily closed:

  • Hoke Correctional Institution in Raeford
  • Tyrrell Prison Work Farm in Columbia
  • Odom Correctional Institution in Jackson

Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee told Latos the state is also mandating overtime to cover for those vacancies.

“Our staff are working hard, but they're tired and that's not good when you think about staff safety,” Ishee said.

The commissioner said the state is working to give employees more tools for protection, including more than 13,000 new stab-resistant vests made of a Kevlar material.

Equipment to detect, block and intercept contraband cellphones and an emergency call button on employees' radios are also being added.

But the victims’ families said their relatives' repeated requests for more safety went unanswered.

They said they believe what happened to their loved ones at Pasquotank could have been prevented.

“She talked about it all the time. She needed more security. She asked for it and didn't get it,” Darden said.

When Latos asked Ishee what he would say to the people who lost family members in North Carolina prisons, he said, “On behalf of our agency, I would tell them I am very, very sorry.”