News Roundup

The Charlotte Observer reported this week that a majority of the inmates at Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro and at least eight staff members at the facility have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.  With more than 450 inmates testing positive, the Observer report says that the outbreak at Neuse is among the largest of any prison in the nation.  Keep reading for more on this story and other news.

Johnston Correctional Closed.  To help address the situation at Neuse, state prison officials announced Monday that Johnston Correctional Institution in Smithfield is being closed temporarily so that the staff can be deployed to Neuse.  In addition to the supplemental staff, Neuse also took delivery of a truckload of personal protective equipment on Saturday and “large-scale disinfectant-dispersal units” are being used to clean the prison.  Inmates previously housed at Johnston have been transferred to Southern Correctional Institution in Troy and the Burke Confinement in Response to Violation Center in Morganton.

State Custody Death.  As Carolina Public Press reports, this week a man who was incarcerated at Pender Correctional Institution died in a hospital due to complications from COVID-19, becoming the first person in the state prison system to succumb to the virus.  The Public Press report, published yesterday, says that nearly 500 people in state custody have tested positive for the virus.  The man who died had underlying health conditions, a situation that is relatively common among incarcerated people according to a UNC School of Medicine public health researcher interviewed in the report.  Last week the News Roundup noted the first COIVD-19 related deaths of federal inmates held in North Carolina.

Escapee Returns.  Another story noted in last week’s News Roundup was that of Richard R. Cephas, a Butner Correctional Institution inmate who fled the prison because he said that he feared contracting the coronavirus there.  This week the News & Observer reports that Cephas is back in custody after turning himself in at a Delaware courthouse on Monday.  Cephas apparently is from Delaware.  A U.S. Attorney said in a news release that Cephas will be returned to North Carolina and has been charged with escape.

Marriages Continue.  North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued an emergency directive this week ordering magistrates to continue to perform marriage ceremonies while adhering to appropriate social distancing practices.  The directive also enables chief district court judges to restrict the times during which ceremonies may be conducted and restrict attendance at the ceremonies.  A press release regarding the emergency directive says that the closure of wedding venues had caused some couples to bring large groups of witnesses and guests to local magistrates’ offices.  This prompted some offices to stop performing marriages.

Dowless.  In a bit of non-COVID news, the Associated Press reports that Bladen County political operative Leslie McRae Dowless was indicted earlier this month by a federal grand jury for fraudulently receiving Social Security benefits while being paid for political work.  The AP report says that Dowless is accused of concealing more than $100,000 of political income from the Social Security Administration, which resulted in him receiving more than $14,000 in benefits above what he was entitled.  State ballot fraud charges against Dowless still are pending.

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