COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – The state Department of Public Safety has launched an internal investigation after a Tabor Correctional inmate died of a suspected overdose amid allegations of correctional officers smuggling drugs into the prison.
Three correctional officers named in two separate incident reports filed by the Tabor City Police Department have resigned in the past week. Only one faces criminal charges at this time, though the State Bureau of Investigation has opened a probe in the matter.
Editor’s note: WECT is not naming the other two correctional officers as they have not been charged with any crime.
Investigators filed their first report, with the crime/incident listed as “negligent manslaughter,” on Nov. 18, six days after an inmate, Dustin Goodson, was taken to the hospital by prison staff for a suspected drug overdose. Speaking with officers on Nov. 16, Associate Warden Jamie Bullard said he was investigating a sergeant at the prison and another inmate.
“Bullard said that they thought that (the sergeant) had brought the drugs into the prison for (the other inmate),” the report states. The inmate also provided a written statement that he received drugs from the sergeant, according to the report.
On Nov. 18, the day after Goodson was pronounced dead, investigators again met with Bullard, who showed them videos from the night Goodson apparently overdosed. Bullard also said the sergeant left work early that day after he was questioned and had not returned to work since.
“(The sergeant) also asked another staff member to bring him his belongings from his office,” officers wrote in the report. “During the search of the deceased’s cell two small suboxone strips were located in the inmate’s cell and were collected by prison staff.”
Investigators spoke with an Assistant District Attorney, who requested an autopsy be performed on Goodson.
Personnel records for the sergeant obtained by WECT indicate he started working at Tabor Correctional in December 2018 and had been with DPS since May 2014. He resigned from his position on Monday.
Investigators filed a separate report for drug trafficking/smuggling following their conversation with Bullard on Nov. 18. While speaking about Goodson, Bullard mentioned prison staff had found more drugs under a podium in a unit.
Video from the area showed Officer Wesley Thompson retrieve two packages from under the podium, place envelopes on top of them and deliver them to an inmate’s cell. More than 121 grams of synthetic marijuana was discovered during a search of the cell.
Investigators then interviewed Thompson and another officer working his same shift. The second officer admitted she knew about Thompson’s drug activity.
“(The officer) said that Thompson had come to her and asked her if she wanted to make some extra money on several occasions but that she didn’t want anything to do with it,” investigators wrote in the report. “(The officer) also said that Thompson told her that he was bringing the drugs into the prison by hiding it in the soles of his boots. (The officer) said that on that Tuesday night Thompson told her that he had a large amount and needed to get rid of it as soon as possible.”
The officer added that she discouraged Thompson from bringing drugs into the prison and denied being a “look out” for Thompson when questioned about her appearing to be so in the video footage.
Thompson asked to speak to his attorney when interviewed. He was arrested and charged with trafficking synthetic cannabinoids into the prison.
Thompson had been a correctional officer with Tabor Correctional since July 2018 before resigning Monday. The other officer on shift with Thompson had been at Tabor Correctional since June 2019. She resigned last Friday.
A spokesperson for DPS provided the following statement when reached for comment:
The Department of Public Safety has zero tolerance for any staff involved in any illegal activity and is cooperating fully in this ongoing investigation. The Department has many hard-working correctional professionals and it takes staff arrests very seriously. These allegations are under internal investigation as well.
The smuggling of drugs into prisons is a nationwide problem, not just a North Carolina problem. This is a constant battle, fought daily. There are no doubts drugs get into prisons despite extensive efforts to keep them out. As soon as we plug a hole in one area, offenders find a work around.
Drugs are thrown over the fences (often stuffed into footballs or basketballs), hidden in the mail, brought in by staff or smuggled in during visitation. Local law enforcement, either a police department or sheriff’s office, is called whenever anyone is caught trying to smuggle in drugs.
Over the past four years, the Division of Prisons has:
- Instituted a zero-tolerance policy for anyone, visitor or staff, who is caught trying to bring in contraband.
- Increased the use of canines in searching prison perimeters for drugs, facility searches and entrance screenings.
- Raised fence heights at some prisons to prevent throw overs.
- Installed motion detectors at some facilities to help detect throw overs.
- Instituted digital mail, so offenders receive high-quality copies of the mail sent to them. This is intended to prevent the introduction of liquified drugs or colorless, odorless suboxone strips from being hidden in the envelopes. Here’s a press release on that initiative, which was expanded system-wide last month: https://www.ncdps.gov/news/press-releases/2021/09/15/prison-system-upgrades-offender-mail-security.
- And other strategies, we cannot discuss as to give away too much information counteracting what we are trying to do.
We educate, train and do everything possible to keep contraband out.
Prisons has a zero tolerance for the introduction of contraband to any prison from any source. We absolutely and fully support prosecution of those responsible.
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