- Associated Press - Monday, July 8, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina lawyers have two weeks to argue that the state’s prison system and a half-dozen managers aren’t responsible for a prison guard’s fatal beating that her father blamed on problems including chronic understaffing and insufficient training.

Slain Bertie Correctional Institution Sgt. Meggan Callahan’s father accuses the state Department of Public Safety and its administrators in a federal lawsuit of inattention to troubles that meant none of the four other guards who should have responded to a potentially deadly fire helped her.

State prisons spokesmen didn’t comment Monday ahead of the expected July 22 filings by state attorneys to the lawsuit filed earlier this year.

Callahan’s death in April 2017 was followed six months later by four other prison employees at Pasquotank Correctional Institution killed during an attempted escape. The five fatalities marked the deadliest year in history for state prison workers.

The lawsuit by John Joseph Callahan, the guard’s father and administrator of her estate, contends prison officials didn’t respond when convicted killer Craig Wissink, 38, said he needed psychological help to combat homicidal thoughts before he allegedly killed Callahan. Prosecutors said last year they will seek the death penalty against Wissink, who had already been serving a life sentence without parole for a 2000 murder.

Prison managers knew the threat that Wissink posed but “ignored the unreasonably dangerous situation” that resulted from an inadequate number of trained corrections officers, the lawsuit filed in April states. If the prisons agency “had followed its own safety procedures and paid attention to the warnings of imminent harm, Sgt. Callahan would not have been killed.”

The lawsuit states that on the day Callahan was killed, Wissink became angry because prison officials refused to change his bunk location. Callahan then wrote a disciplinary report that Wissink refused to follow a direct order. Within minutes of that writing, Wissink started a fire in a trash can on the prison block he shared with other inmates.

Callahan, a 29-year-old hired in 2012, rushed with a fire extinguisher to douse the danger. Wissink ambushed the correctional officer, splashing her with boiling water he’d heated in a microwave oven in a common area, the lawsuit said. Wissink then grabbed the extinguisher and battered Callahan’s head, killing her, prosecutors said.

None of the four corrections officers who should have been supporting Callahan came to her aid because one slot was vacant and two were filled by guards untrained to respond to inmate confrontations. The fourth qualified officer who had been working with Callahan was in a different location and couldn’t respond, the lawsuit said.

Callahan’s family made similar claims in a separate lawsuit in state court, The Charlotte Observer reported last week.

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