Former sheriff pleads guilty
By Linda Miller, Staff Writer
Former Sheriff Alan Kilpatrick pled guilty last week in Cherokee County District Court to a misdemeanor charge related to the death of inmate Christopher Lee Wood September 5, 2002.
Kilpatrick entered a guilty plea January 22 before Judge Richlyn Holt to the charge of "failure to timely file a written report of the death of an inmate to the local health director and the Secretary of Health and Human Services." Under North Carolina law, the sheriff is required to submit a written report to health officials within five days after a death. In the case of Wood's death, Kilpatrick's written report was not submitted until 12 days later on September 17.
In a courthouse press conference following the hearing last week, District Attorney Charles Hipps said Kilpatrick was not present at the jail at the time of or during the hours preceding Wood's death. He said the State Bureau of Investigations' (SBI's) investigation failed to show that Kilpatrick had any knowledge of Wood's medical condition until he was called after Wood died.
Hipps said former Jail Administrator Judy Mason was in charge from 9 a.m. until after Wood's death and has been charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor failure to secure medical treatment for an inmate.
"Sheriff Kilpatrick has today accepted responsibility for his failure to report the death as required by law," Hipps said.
Hipps said based on evidence contained in the SBI report there is no further basis for additional criminal charges against anyone regarding Wood's death.
Hipps also offered suggestions for statewide improvements in protecting confined persons in jails. He said that local jails should be inspected frequently by a grand jury in each county. If deficiencies are found either by county social services or a grand jury, county commissioners should seriously consider correcting those deficiencies immediately, and sheriffs should review plans to make sure each staff member involved with prisoners recognizes the duties and responsibilities imposed by law for medical care and protection of those prisoners.
Monday, February 3, 2003 6:57AM EST
Files missing from county office
Information on the death of a prisoner who was denied care is gone in Cherokee County
The Associated Press
MURPHY -- Memos, letters and computer files from the past four years are missing from the Cherokee County sheriff's office, including those related to the death of a jail inmate who died of diabetes after being denied emergency care.
State law requires government documents to be available for public inspection and to be preserved after a change in office. Neither former Sheriff Alan Kilpatrick nor former jail administrator Judy Mason would comment on the files. The missing documents include those related to the death of Christopher Lee Wood, who died of diabetes after being denied emergency care last September.
Newly elected sheriff Keith Lovin said that when he entered office in December, he found empty filing cabinets and computers wiped clean of all files except for operating programs.
"When I came into my office the first day, there was a desk, a file cabinet, a paper shredder and a disassembled computer," Lovin said.
County officials disclosed the documents had disappeared after the Asheville Citizen-Times sought public records written by Kilpatrick and Mason between Sept. 1 and Sept. 18. The request could not be filled because the county's attorney, new sheriff and county commissioners could not locate the requested files, officials said.
"If there were any records and they're not in the jail or sheriff's office, then they have been taken by either Ms. Mason or Mr. Kilpatrick," county attorney R. Scott Lindsay said. "Or, they've been destroyed."
A memo Lindsay sent to Kilpatrick Nov. 18 said the county attorney had received an anonymous phone call alleging that documents were being destroyed.
"I do not know whether anything is being destroyed, but I would strongly advise that all official records or papers related to ... the Sheriff's Department and Jail during your term in office be preserved and maintained," the memo said.
Lindsay said he spoke with Kilpatrick after sending him the memo by fax and was told no documents were being destroyed.
Detailed phone records from Kilpatrick's term in office also are missing. Kilpatrick had repeatedly refused to give the county finance department itemized phone records, Lindsay said.
Sheriffs are educated regularly about what constitutes a public record, said Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph, the president of the N.C. Sheriff's Association. The association holds classes for newly elected sheriffs, teaching them about public record laws. Still, some don't always obey the law.
"When I took office almost eight and a half years ago and I walked into my office there was nothing in the file cabinets," Pendergraph said. "But, missing phone records? That's unusual."
Mason was indicted on an involuntary manslaughter charge in connection with Wood's death. Kilpatrick pleaded guilty Jan. 22 to taking too long to notify the state Department of Health and Human Services of Wood's death, a misdemeanor.