On Sept. 12, 2022, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety paid $1.4 million to the estate of Geoffrey Howe, a maintenance mechanic at Pasquotank Correctional Institution who was killed by four inmates during an attempted prison break.
Howe’s estate was represented by David Kirby, of Edwards Kirby Law Firm, and Cate Edwards, of Edwards Beightol Law Firm, both in Raleigh.
According to the plaintiff’s counsel, the escape attempt started in the sewing plant, operated by Correction Enterprises, where violent inmates worked in violation of DPS policy.
“The State placed known, violent criminals in jobs at the sewing plant,” Kirby said. “Then, they gave them virtually unrestricted access to dangerous weapons, including scissors and claw hammers.”
The four inmates who perpetrated the attack gathered those tools to use in their escape, which started by killing Correction Enterprises Plant Supervisor, Veronica Darden, and taking her keys. The inmates then returned to the plant and brutally murdered Correctional Officer Justin Smith in a storage room that the inmates knew was not video monitored, Kirby reported.
After their initial attack, the inmates moved undetected down an elevator to the ground floor, where they encountered Correctional Officer Wendy Shannon and maintenance mechanic Geoffrey Howe. Due to Howe’s position as a maintenance mechanic, he was never supposed to encounter prisoners through his work.
The inmates used the tools from the sewing plant to attack Shannon and Howe before running to the fence and ultimately being captured.
Howe and Shannon were transported to the hospital and died within weeks due to their severe injuries. Howe left behind a three-year-old daughter, parents, and fiancé. The attempted escapees are in the process of being tried individually for murder. The orchestrator of this attempted escape and attack has been convicted and sentenced to death.
According to Edwards, the legal issues in the case were complex. DPS employed extremely violent criminals in the sewing plant, where 30 inmates were supervised by only one correctional officer, DPS also placed claw hammers and other dangerous tools in the plant and failed to adequately monitor the inmates as they moved through different floors of the prison, she reported.
“Despite the difficult legal posture and applicable defenses, this settlement is an indication that the State knew something terrible and preventable had happened to one of its own people, in one of its own prisons,” Edwards said.
The suit involved both State claims and claims under 42 USC § 1983. The case was removed to U.S. District Court, where the Court rejected plaintiff’s claims on grounds of qualified immunity, that decision was upheld by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. After that decision, the parties reached a settlement.
“This is an incredibly tragic case were a young father died a brutal and senseless death because simple safety protocols were not followed,” Kirby said. “His death, and the deaths of three other coworkers were compounded by archaic notions of governmental immunity that blocked access to civil remedies normally available to everyone except when that injury, or in this case death, comes through governmental negligence.”
Settlement Report – Wrongful Death and Civil Rights
Amount: $1.4 million
Injuries Alleged: Wrongful Death
Court: Pasquotank County Superior Court; United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina; Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals
Date of Settlement: September 12, 2022
Case Nos.: 19 CvS 738 (Pasquotank County); 2:16-cv-00036-H (E.D.N.C.); 20-2357 (4th Cir.)
Attorneys for Plaintiff: David Kirby of Edwards Kirby and Cate Edwards of Edwards Beightol in Raleigh
Attorney for Defendant: North Carolina Department of Justice