According to the Thursday, May 21, 2009, issue of the “News & Observer,” the correctional staff at Central Prison is at it again. In an article titled “Guard sprays disabled inmate: The prisoner banged on a door,” an unidentified guard sprayed Timothy Helms in the face with pepper foam. The foam is a more sinister weapon than the atomized spray, in that attempts to wipe it off merely pushes it deeper into the skin, eliciting more intense pain. However, Mr. Helms, who is mentally retarded and mentally ill, and was diagnosed as being a quadriplegic from brain injuries sustained while in solitary confinement, would probably not have been able to even attempt to try and remove the foam.
Mr. Helms evidently warranted this torture because he refused to obey a guard’s order to stop banging on a door and to stop cursing. According to Department of Corrections spokesman Keith Acree, Mr. Helms slid out of a wheelchair and hit the floor as the officer was attempting to handcuff him. In the newspaper article, Mr. Acree also gave assurances that Mr. Helms was not injured during this incident.
The DOC stated that the corrections officer involved, whose name was withheld, tendered his resignation after being notified that an internal investigation was going to be conducted. DOC Secretary Alvin W. Keller, Jr. stated, “This agency’s job is to protect the public safety and the safety of inmates and employees in our facilities. I will not tolerate anyone who operates outside of established policies and procedures that puts that safety at risk.” This statement comes from a man who stated that there was no evidence to support a theory that Timothy Helms was beaten in August 2008, despite the fact that he had two skull fractures and welts on his back and torso (consistent with those inflicted by a billy club). The department has refused to make public any records concerned with the incidents involving Mr. Helms, stating that to do so would “imperil the security” of the maximum security prison.
Secretary Keller (who believes Mr. Helms sustained two skull fractures from falling and hitting his head on the concrete floor), the State Bureau of Investigation (which has been unable to determine how Mr. Helms received his injuries while in solitary confinement at Central Prison), and the DOC mouthpiece, Mr. Acree, by their words and deeds (and/or lack thereof), have absolutely no credibility with the people of North Carolina. And judging by their silence on these atrocities, Governor Bev Perdue (who appointed Mr. Keller to head the DOC), Attorney General Roy Cooper (who commands the SBI), and other elected officials or politicians lack credibility in the North Carolina Department of Corrections leadership, as well.
There is no doubt in my mind that the torture, abuse, beatings, and mistreatment sustained by Mr. Helms, is standard practice at our state’s institutions. The veil of secrecy that is put up around what transpires behind the walls of our prisons is to shield the public from an awareness of the degrading, dehumanizing, and debilitating conditions in our correctional system… not the pretext of protecting security proffered by DOC officials. This secrecy allows correctional officers to assault and abuse inmates with impunity, and this condition is palatable for elected officials because the majority of those imprisoned are disenfranchised, poor, and people of color. And the people in power have little concern or empathy for their plight. This needs to change.
Without doubt, Timothy Helms should be transferred from prison to a rehabilitation facility where he can receive optimal treatment for the paralytic condition he sustained while in confinement. The fact that he has evidently recovered some movement in his extremities supports such a move (which is also recommended by the DOC physician.) The correctional staff’s attitude towards Mr. Helms, whose situation has brought unwanted scrutiny upon them, is poisoned, and as long as he remains in custody, he will continue to be subjected to abuse.
Government officials and politicians often remain silent or choose not to get involved in situations in which state agencies have committed acts or pursued policies that are indefensible and immoral. That is what has happened with the state’s treatment of Timothy Helms, and that is what has happened with the state’s treatment of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. Politicians, law school professors, and even the North Carolina legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union have refused to comment on the selective and unjust disbarment of Mr. Nifong (the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception).
Like the North Carolina Department of Corrections, the North Carolina State Bar joins it as being an agency that is totally lacking credibility in the minds of independent, rational, intelligent, and objective thinking North Carolinians. It is past time for state leaders of good conscience to become involved and speak out against North Carolina’s system of “selective justice based on Class and Color.”