Daughter of slain prison worker says state could have done more to protect her

Daughter of slain prison worker says state could have done more to protect her

CHARLOTTE — Jasmine Herring has wonderful memories and many pictures of her mom, Veronica Darden. Family and friends called her Ronnie.

"You can tell just from the smile on her face she was special," said Herring. "She was my heart. She was everything to me."

Content Continues Below

Herring's heart is broken. Darden died in October when four inmates armed with scissors and hammers set a fire inside the sewing plant at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City, attacking prison employees in an attempt to escape.

Darden was the sewing plant manager.

"I did not know what a pair of scissors could do," said Herring.  "I knew they could stab you, but I did not know that people could use them like that."

Three other Pasquotank employees, Justin Smith, Geoffrey Howe, and Wendy Shannon, also died.

Six months earlier, an inmate beat corrections officer, Sgt. Meggan Callahan to death inside Bertie Correctional Institution in Windsor.

Herring said she does not believe state officials did enough to protect her mother.

A report by the National Institute of Corrections identified serious issues inside Pasquotank including a staff shortage of 25 percent, an absence of personal safety equipment and training, and no one monitoring sewing plant security cameras.

State officials said they are making changes at all North Carolina prisons.

Director of Prisons Kenneth Lassiter gave Channel 9 exclusive access inside Lanesboro Correctional in Anson County where officers now pat and frisk every visitor and employee. Those checks used to be random.

Everyone must also remove coats, belts, and shoes and go through metal detectors.

Fifty-three of the state's 55 prisons now have cell sense towers. If anyone, especially inmates, has metal or a cell phone, an alarm will go off.

One critical need that has not been resolved is that North Carolina's prisons need more corrections officers.

"We have a high turnover," said Lassiter.  "We actually lose as many as we bring in."

We asked if employees are afraid to come to work.

"They are concerned for their safety, and they should be," said Lassiter.

The state is working to provide officers with safety tools like pepper spray and tasers, ramping up recruiting, and working to increase pay.

Lassiter said they're increasing security outside prison walls too because contraband tossed over the fences is a growing problem.

"Now we're looking at another plan to move the fencing up because now they're coming through the backside and coming through the woods and throwing it over the fence," said Lassiter.

Lassiter hopes the changes make prisons more secure across the state. But for Jasmine Herring, still grieving her mother's death, those changes come too late.

"I would do anything to see her, anything just to be able to hug her again," said Herring.

State officials permanently shut down the sewing plant at Pasquotank.

The metal shop at Lanesboro has also been closed while officials review which inmates should or should not work there.

The state is also planning to order stab-resistant shirts for thousands of employees, provide personal body alarms, and upgrade video cameras.