A security gate at the Cherokee County detention center, in Murphy, N.C. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press

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Editor’s note: This independent and investigative series was only made possible through months of research and reporting — interviewing more than a dozen people, gathering and reviewing more than 500 pages of public records, and researching, reporting and producing multiple news reports. Detailed, fact-based investigative reporting is a massive undertaking; it’s the reason Carolina Public Press exists. As this report shows, investigative reporting matters, and this story would have stayed unreported and in the dark without our team of investigative journalists. Please support in-depth and investigative reporting for NC today; your tax-deductible gift of up to $1,000 will be doubled today. Thank you.

District Attorney Ashley Welch said Wednesday she plans to ask the State Bureau of Investigation to expand its investigation into Cherokee County Sheriff Derrick Palmer’s office.

Her request follows reporting by Carolina Public Press on an inmate whom jail officers left naked, screaming and chained to a drain in the floor of a holding cell at the county jail, possibly for hours last year. The report cited emails showing that a concerned officer informed the sheriff and chief deputy about the incident while it was happening.

“I am going to request an investigation into this matter to the SBI,” Welch said late Wednesday. “Basically, it’s going to be an extension of what they are already doing. I may call them (Thursday).”

Welch, whose 30th Prosecutorial District includes Cherokee and Graham counties, said she could not comment further.

Cherokee County Sheriff Derrick Palmer

After CPP published its report early Wednesday, Sheriff Palmer said in an email that pretrial inmate Steven Douglas Hall “was naked because he kept tearing his own clothes off. (Jail officers) dressed him in several outfits but could not keep him clothed.”

However, this raises a number of other questions about whether deputies followed protocol in restraining Hall, as well as why the sheriff did not respond to questions from his own staff and CPP about Hall’s nakedness until after Wednesday’s article appeared.

Asked for further explanation Wednesday afternoon, the sheriff did not respond immediately.

In July 2017, when a patrol sergeant initially expressed concern for how Hall was treated, Chief Deputy Mark Thigpen responded: “Hall has been out of control and harming himself and the sprinklers. They lock him down and give him time to eat, and pee while under constant supervision.”

Cherokee County Chief Deputy Mark Thigpen

Palmer also did not address why Hall was chained to a drain in the floor.

A former guard, Tom Taylor, has told CPP that standard procedure would have been to place unruly inmates in a restraint chair.

When brought into the jail and before leaving the booking area, inmates are supposed to be given mental and physical health screenings, according to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office operating guidelines.

“No inmate will remain in restraint for an unreasonable period of time without an examination by the jail nurse,” the policy handbook states. However, that handbook does not provide definitions of how much time would be unreasonable or describe who is qualified to determine that.

The policy manual also says that when deputies place an inmate in restraints for self-protection, they must immediately report this action to the detention administrator, who in 2017 was Mark Patterson.

Cherokee County Detention Center Administrator Mark Patterson

Patterson resigned earlier this month, shortly after CPP published its Oct. 29 investigative report on alleged patterns of inmate abuse on his watch. His last day at the detention center will be Friday; however, Patterson has recently been hired to serve as a school resource officer in Cherokee County.

“A written incident report shall be filed immediately,” the policy manual says.

Carolina Public Press requested copies of these reports in Hall’s case from Palmer’s office on Wednesday but has not yet received a reply.

A short time after Williams emailed Palmer and Thigpen regarding Hall’s condition, Cherokee County officers dropped off Hall, dressed in a Graham County jail uniform, at the Graham County Detention Center.

According to a Graham County Official, Cherokee officers left Hall on the street and not in the jail because they did not bring paperwork to allow Graham County to take Hall into custody. The Graham official said officers there provided street clothes for Hall, without mentioning Hall having trouble staying clothed at that time.

Previous reports on the Cherokee County Detention Center

  • Nov.  28: Emails about naked, chained inmate appear to contradict NC sheriff, link
  • Nov. 2: Cherokee jail administrator resigns, sheriff promises change, link
  • Oct. 29: Former guards allege pattern of inmate abuse at NC county jail, link
  • Jun 1: Guard fired after scrap with inmate questions handling of case as SBI investigates, link

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Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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