RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The mother of a North Carolina jail inmate who died after an assault last year is suing the sheriff and nine staff members, saying they created an unsafe environment in which an inmate was allowed to control a jail pod.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court, and the News & Observer of Raleigh reported it said the “deliberate indifference to the safety of prisoners” led to the death of Maurice King on March 4, 2020, in the Orange County jail. King was 34.
The lawsuit said a “pattern and practice of deliberate indifference to the emergency medical needs of prisoners” by the defendants caused King’s death.
Sheriff Charles Blackwood could not be reached for comment by the newspaper. Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes said the sheriff’s office hasn’t seen the lawsuit, but would respond once it has been served.
Security video reviewed by the newspaper showed four inmates entering King’s cell, including a 22-year-old inmate who was later charged with involuntary manslaughter in King’s death.
A video also showed two detention officers did not check on King’s cell or others in the pod during required rounds. The officers walked by numerous cells without looking in. A state Department of Health and Human Services investigation found the officers had violated regulations requiring each inmate to be checked at least twice an hour.
Approximately 90 minutes after the assault, detention officers discovered King “lying down, soaking wet, with visible swelling and bleeding of the left eye, complaining of shortness of breath and aches and pains throughout his body,” according to the suit.
Filed by attorney Allyn Sharp, the lawsuit also said there was blood on the floor, walls and the inside of the cell door.
About 40 minutes passed before detention officers would carry King out of his cell to a wheelchair, to be taken to a jail nurse, who called for an ambulance, the lawsuit said. King went into cardiac arrest and died later that evening at a hospital.
Blackwood told the state Department of Health and Human Services the officers had been disciplined, but jail officials later said they hadn’t been demoted or suspended, moves required to be reported under the state’s personnel law. The DHHS accepted Blackwell’s plan of correction.
The lawsuit also said detention officers had ceded control of the pod to an inmate who the lawsuit said had such control over other inmates that they didn’t take showers without his permission.
King is one of three inmates in North Carolina jails in the past two years who have died after assaults by other inmates, law enforcement records show. Fatal assaults also took place in the Cleveland and Craven county jails. In all three cases, DHHS investigations found detention officers hadn’t properly checked on the inmates. The Cleveland County jail death prompted a lawsuit filed earlier this year.
The number of inmate deaths in North Carolina jails has risen steadily over the past several years. Last year, deaths reached a high with 49, DHHS records show.