In Monday, April 6, 2009’s “News & Observer,” Ruth Sheehan wrote a gutsy column titled, “Inmate’s plight a travesty.” It was right on the money, and brought forth many situations, which at first blush appeared to be illogical. The first of which was: why was it necessary to handcuff and shackle to a hospital bed a “prisoner” who was totally paralyzed since August 2008 because of a beating administered by guards at that time. He certainly wasn’t a flight risk, as he needed assistance just to sit up in bed. This doesn’t seem logical. However, the psychologists and administrators and those whose directives are responsible for this action have a well thought out reason for doing so. It is relatively simple and boils down to this: A hand-cuffed, shackled, and chained quadriplegic inmate lying half conscious in a hospital bed appears to be more threatening, more felonious, more dangerous, and less sympathetic than an unrestrained quadriplegic inmate. It is all for show. The D.O.C. is trying to market the inmate as being dangerous, a bad guy, and a menace (even in his quadriplegic state).
Another point that Ms. Sheehan addressed about the incident is why was the inmate, Tim Helms, charged for allegedly damaging property when no one was charged with severely assaulting and damaging Mr. Helms. After being beaten so badly that damage to his brain left him paralyzed, Mr. Helms, who was serving three life sentences for murder (vehicular manslaughter), was charged with two felonies: burning a public building and malicious damage to occupied property. Any rational person would not even consider filing such charges for someone serving a three life sentences for starting a fire which may have caused some damage in an isolation cell in a super-max prison. However, the Department of Corrections does not mind wasting taxpayer money on such nonsense because it believes that by doing so, it makes the inmate seem more sinister and more evil. Again, the DOC is trying to sway public opinion.
The article in Sunday’s (April 5, 2009) “News & Observer” titled “SBI investigates how inmate’s brain was badly injured,” is very tragic and troublesome. The heading reads, “Blunt-force trauma turns a state prisoner in solitary confinement into a quadriplegic. Officials say they don’t know how it happened.” It is obvious to any reasonable person that state prisoner Timothy Helms was savagely clobbered with billy-clubs by the guards, and allowed to remain in his cell for approximately 24 hours or more before prison official sought medical attention for him.
According to Tim Helms’s family, there is reason to believe that he was not even at the wheel of the truck which ran a stop signal and struck a car killing two of its occupants. Mr. Helms and another person in the truck were both thrown from the truck, with other man dying of his injuries. The prosecution based its case against Tim Helms on a signed statement he made in which he accepted responsibility for the accident and agreed to serve three life sentences. The only problem is that Tim Helms is severely retarded with an IQ of 79 (believed to be the result of a childhood head injury). This is not unlike the State’s case against Mr. Floyd Brown, a severely retarded man who prosecutors stated signed a written confession to a murder. He was later released after being held for fourteen years without a trial, and Attorney General Roy Cooper, who stated he would investigate the reasons for the outrageous delay in the Brown case, has yet to do so.
Furthermore, according to the Sunday article, in September 2008, the then-DOC Secretary Theodis Beck sent a letter to the State Bureau of Investigation asking for agents to be assigned to the Helms case. According to current DOC Secretary Alvin W. Keller, Jr., the SBI, which is under the supervision of Attorney General Roy Cooper, was unable to launch an investigation until early this March (shortly after “News & Observer” contacted a DOC attorney seeking information about Helms on February 24, 2009). I would imagine that any investigation by the SBI under A.G. Cooper would take quite a bit of time and essentially be a whitewash, similar to the investigation regarding Floyd Brown.
The only time Attorney General Cooper has acted with any speed has been in the Duke Lacrosse case. Within months of taking control of that case, his so-called “investigation” into it was completed, he stated no crimes had been committed, he proclaimed the privileged Duke defendants “innocent,” he led the effort to successfully have Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong disbarred (the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception), and he sought to have the U.S. Attorney General investigate Mr. Nifong.
What is very troubling is the extent at which the Department of Corrections went to keep Timothy Helms’s family from seeing him. State officials lied to the family about the incident at the prison, about the injuries and medical condition of Timothy, and even went so far as to say that he did not want members of his family to be contacted. The last statement of an e-mail from Keith Acree, Public Affairs Director for the NC Department of Corrections (published in the Sunday “News & Observer”) to Tim’s brother Mike Helms, read: “Additionally there is no evidence to support any claim that Tim was beaten by officers while handcuffed.” Mr. Acree is playing word games. Whether or not he was handcuffed or not is not the issue. Mr. Acree is implicitly implying in the e-mail that Tim Helms was not beaten by officers.
The actions and cover-up by the state’s Department of Corrections and Attorney General’s office of the Helms’s incident, are shameful, an outrage, and an embarrassment to the state of North Carolina. That Mr. Helms’s story was brought forth by the “News & Observer,” is, itself, amazing. Although there are other similar stories, such as the assault upon inmate Theodore Jerry Williams by Union County sheriff deputies, the media has kept them under wraps. The frightening reality is that there are many such incidents occurring in prisons throughout the state.
The North Carolina Department of Corrections Public Affairs Director Keith Acree flippantly stated that “every prison receives complaints. Inmates don’t like being in prison.” The fact is that they may not like being in prison, however, I am certain that their complaints have to do with the systemic and statewide inhumane, degrading, demoralizing, and abusive behavior they receive from the corrections staff and directors. This mistreatment is a fact that Mr. Acree chooses to ignore and does not wish to acknowledge.