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Newly Released Report Gives Horrific Details On Murder Of Correctional Sgt. Meggan Callahan

Low pay and correctional officer shortages may be to blame for increased attacks by inmates on correctional officers, including the murder of Correctional Sgt. Meggan Callahan.

Bertie County, NC – New details have surfaced about the ambush and violent attack on Bertie County Correctional Sergeant Meggan Callahan, who was murdered inside the Bertie Correctional Institution on April 26.

The autopsy report was released on Wednesday, October 25, according to The Charlotte Observer.

It confirmed that inmate Craig Wissink set a trash can fire and then attacked Sgt. Callahan while she was trying to put out the fire.

Wissink threw hot, boiling water into Sgt. Callahan’s face while she was trying to extinguish the fire. When she set the fire extinguisher down, he tried to cut her with a piece of glass.

“When this didn’t work to injure her, the inmate took the fire extinguisher and began to strike Ms. Callahan about the head”, according to the autopsy report. It said “despite aggressive attempts, she could not be resuscitated.”

The report listed extensive injuries to Sgt. Callahan, including multiple lacerations, thermal burns, and “massive basilar skull fractures”. The cause of death was listed as “traumatic head injuries due to assault with fire extinguisher.”

State Bureau of Investigation Agent Anthony Jernigan said earlier that the attack on Sgt. Callahan was targeted, although no reason was given. He said, “It was violent and deliberate.”

Wissink began serving a life sentence in 2004 for first-degree murder, in the death of John Lawrence Pruey which occurred in 2000 during an attempted robbery.

Requests from The Charlotte Observer for a copy of surveillance video that captured the graphic attack have been denied by state officials, who said “it contained sensitive public security information.”

Bertie Correctional Institution is a men’s prison located in Windsor that can house up to 1400 adult male inmates.

It is a close custody facility, one step above medium security, and houses inmates who have committed very serious crimes, pose an escape risk, or who have shown a pattern of not following the rules, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety .

This incident was not the first where inmates have violently attacked correctional officers.

In 2015, former Correctional Officer Rosie Anderson was violently attacked by inmate Sammy Whittington, who is serving a 16-year sentence for beating his wife to death with a pipe. The attack occurred at Central Prison in Raleigh.

Whittington approached former Officer Anderson, with his pants down and genitals exposed. He threw her to the ground, began punching her repeatedly in the face, and tried to sexually assault her. It is almost a full minute before other officers arrive to assist her.

The attacks show a pattern of increasing violence to correctional officers, according to an investigation by The Charlotte Observer.

On October 12, Correctional Officer Justin Smith and Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden were murdered during an attempted escape and uprising at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

Inmates used hammers and scissors to beat and stab the correctional officers, where a total of 14 were injured.

In that investigation, severe staff shortages were reported that placed the lives of correctional officers and inmates in danger. Some prisons, including Bertie and Pasquotank, have shortages of officers where one out of every four officer positions is vacant.

Sources have said that the shortage is so severe at some prisons that one officer is responsible for 100 inmates.

Another factor is low pay, which doesn’t begin to cover the inherent danger of a correctional officer’s job.

State officials said that they have increased officers’ pay and expanded hiring programs. But the low pay and officer shortages still exist.

When former Correctional Officer Anderson was attacked, she was working in the mental health unit. She said that the unit was five officers short on that day.

About 200 inmates are assigned to that unit, and 21 officers are normally assigned to work there. The state has refused to answer questions about recommended and actual staffing levels on the day of former Officer Anderson’s attack.

According to experts, having a second officer within a cell block would likely have shortened or prevented the attack.

Robert Marvin, also a former Correctional Officer who worked at Central Prison, said that the prison is so short-staffed, “it’s deadly.” He said that he resigned because of the low pay and unsafe working conditions.

Statistics show that about 16% of correctional officer positions in North Carolina prisons are vacant. Many of the prisons are located in rural areas, where recruiting officers can be difficult.

In 2015, pay raises were approved by the North Carolina legislature for prison guards, bringing the average salary up to $38,000 from $31,000 . This current pay for North Carolina correctional officers is still about $8,000 less than the national average for prison officers and jailers.

GinnyReed - October Sun, 2017


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