NCDOC admits officers failed to follow policy in inmate escape

November 17, 2010 3:58:16 PM PST
The North Carolina Department of Corrections admitted Wednesday that officers failed to follow policy when an a prisoner managed escape and steal a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Public Safety Department squad car Tuesday afternoon.DOC leaders say the corrections officers failed to follow protocol and have been reassigned as they investigate.

On Tuesday, 46-year-old Farley Bernard was undergoing a medical procedure at UNC Hospitals when he made a run for it. Officials say he should have been in restraints, but he was not.

They say while he was changing from his prison garb into a hospital robe, an unarmed officer was supposed to assist him, while an armed officer was supposed to stand guard.

"There is no reason he should've been unrestrained at anytime," said Robert Lewis with NC DOC. "I can't say the officer was by the door. I do know the officer was in the area."

Once Bernard escaped from the hospital, he was able to slip by an UNC campus police officer and take her squad car. Bernard then sped off west on Interstate 40.

Officers say they chased the Chevy Impala from Orange County into Alamance County where it crashed into the back of a box truck.

Bernard suffered minor injuries in the crash and was taken into custody.

DOC leaders say the officers who were with Bernard at the time of his escape not only violated DOC's policies, but also UNC Hospitals' policy.

UNC, along with other hospitals in the Triangle --including Duke Medical Center, Rex and Wake Med-- all have strict security policies on inmate hospital visits.

UNC Hospitals' policy only allows prisoners considered low risk to go without restraints. Bernard was in closed custody at Pasquotank Correctional Center, which means he was not a low risk inmate.

The DOC says thousands of inmates are treated at hospitals statewide every year. They estimate hundreds of inmates are transported to medical facilities every day without incident.

"When we're out of our facilities, it doesn't matter if it's court or a hospital, we are the most vulnerable," Lewis said. "We're out of the confines of a secure perimeter."

Correctional officials say some hospitals offer secure floors or wings designated for inmates only, but there are none in the Triangle.

They say their hope is to eventually treat more inmates at the Central Prison Hospital Complex, which is now in the works. Its scheduled completion date is the Fall of 2012. However, it would take another year for it to be fully operational and ready to treat patients.

In the meantime, DOC officials admit the high speed chase could've been much worse, calling it a regrettable incident.

"Anytime we as an agency put the general public at risk, it is something that causes concern for us," Lewis said.

Bernard will make his first court appearance on five new charges on Thursday.

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