Richardson challenges jail order

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson is challenging Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr.’ authority to order the county to proceed toward building a new jail.

During the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, Richardson termed the order a “spurious” one and said it contained false and/or misleading information. Richardson acknowledged Sermons has the power to close the jail, which he did In June after it was evacuated because of electrical problems.

On Sept. 13, Sermons ordered the jail to reopen and begin taking in inmates that had been housed elsewhere. He also ordered, “That the Board of Commissioners shall continue to plan and design a county jail that meets the minimum standards in the State of North Carolina. That such planning and construction shall proceed in as timely a manner as possible given the time restraints of architectural service, financing, and construction times.”

Sermons further required the Board of Commissioners to submit a written progress report on the new jail before each administrative session of Beaufort County Criminal Superior Court. That order included a list of those dates.

Richardson said Sermons is requiring something at the jail that state law does not require — a smoke-evacuation system.

“Insofar as the report that was provided by consulting engineer Wilson Pou, he talks about a smoke-evacuation system. When that jail was built, a smoke-evacuation system was not required,” Richardson said. “That jail can stay there forever without a smoke-evacuation system. The letter from (professional engineer) Pou says that the state law does not require a smoke-evacuation system. Yet, the judge has got it in his order. So, where did he get this information from? Who was whispering in his ear while he was writing this? Because he didn’t sit over there and dream this. Someone was helping him with this stuff.”

Sermons said some people interpret the order as a mandate for the county to build a new jail.

“I beg to disagree. The judge can do just as he stated at the top of page two, where he says we are required to provide a jail facility which conforms to the minimum standards” set out in state law. “We are doing that at this point in time. No state, no county official or employee has condemned this jail.”

Richardson said the county is in compliance with state laws regarding jails.

“This is a spurious order from the standpoint of the way it’s presented, and I call upon Judge Sermons to give us finding of fact for statements that he has made in this particular order — because he can’t,” Richardson said.

Richardson also said he has concerns with reports being made to the court when those reports had not come before the commissioners for their perusal and permission to be sent to the court.

“We have a serious problem with making reports to the judge by employees who have no authority from the commissioners to go over there and say anything,” Richardson said. “If the judge wants them to appear, he needs to subpoena them, and he needs to subpoena the commissioners at the same time so we can all go over there and see who’s whispering in whose ear because there is collusion within this process, and there should not be.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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