16, 2003, the sheets were pulled up over the broken and bruised head,
neck and body of a man who had been admitted to Raleigh’s Wake Medical
Center after being transported to Raleigh by two deputies of the New Hanover
County Sheriff’s Department. Gary Rummer was a man slight in stature,
barely 130 pounds. He was soft spoken because a birth defect that had
left him with a hair-lip, caused by a cleft palate. This made his speech
somewhat difficult to understand and had caused Gary some embarrassment
throughout his 50 years of life. His friends of the past 30 years, Steven
and Hilarie Scarbro, say he is one of the gentlest people they have ever
been acquainted with. Yet Gary Eugene Rummer died from a violent altercation
while in custody of the New Hanover County Jail.
Last year on a Friday evening, Mr. Rummer had a couple of beers prior
to driving home. He was stopped and arrested for driving while intoxicated.
His blood alcohol level was tested by a certified technician utilizing
a breath testing machine and Gary’s blood alcohol concentration
was registered a .08, this being just at the bubble of the legal limit
to drive. He was placed in the New Hanover County jail that night and
had to stay put until he could appear in court on Monday morning. Monday,
the Scarbros bailed Rummer out of jail. Later he returned back to court
for trial and then received his sentence for DWI. Part of the sentencing
was for Mr. Rummer to complete 24 hours of community service.
Mr. Rummer failed to meet the courts requirement to give 24 hours of his
time for community service. On January 10th he was rearrested and brought
to jail. Sometime around noon on the 14th, Rummer was transported to Central
Prison hospital in Raleigh for “medical safe keeping”, one
hundred and twenty miles away. He was unconscious during the entire trip.
For some reason, immediately after the deputies delivered Mr. Rummer to
Central Prison, he was rushed by ambulance to the Wake Medical Center’s
emergency room. Two days later, on the 16th, his friends the Scarbro’s,
signed the papers necessary to remove Mr. Rummer from the life support
ventilator and stood by him till his last breath of air was released into
the sad, silent room.
Speculations flew since the release of the autopsy report in April. Prior
to the release of the autopsy report, the Sheriff’s Department called
his death an accident with insinuations that his death was related to
an alcohol related illness. Gary Rummer’s autopsy report showed
something entirely different though. It showed a broken neck, severe brain
damage and hemorrhaging, and several bruises on and around various places
of his body. Suspiciously, the report also stated he died from injuries
suffered from an altercation with a law enforcement officer.
Almost 3 weeks after Mr. Rummer’s death, on February 4th, the SBI
was called in to investigate the death. This was the exact same date that
the District Attorney’s Office was first notified of his death by
the Sheriff’s Office. The report has been completed and delivered
to the DA’s Office and soon after, a press conference was held Monday,
June 2nd to absolve the deputy jailer, and all others, of any criminal
Jail conditions have historically been horrendous. Spilling over with
scores of people awaiting trial. Most of these people are too poor to
“bond out” and some of them are too dangerous to be let out.
But we have to keep them somewhere until they can have their day in court.
Those that end up convicted or plea to a lesser charge may be given a
prison term, some will be released with time already served (meaning that
for those inmates, they spent their prison time in a county jail situation
rather than a tougher state prison facility). Others are released on probation
with a suspended prison sentence, which means, that if they fail the conditions
of their probation, they will end up serving time in prison.
Our jail was initially designed to hold 125 inmates. An addition in 1990
gave the jail 83 new beds, bringing the total to 209. Today the daily
population is over 300. It has been as high as 400 in the very recent
past. I can remember seeing juvenile inmates sleeping on the floor chained
to the wall in hallways because there was no place for them to stay safely.
Young inmates often fall victim to physical as well as sexual assaults
by other, more seasoned, criminal inmates. If I had a picture to show
you of the conditions I saw back in the 90’s you would think it
was some poor third world country’s jail, not ours. New Hanover
County is one of the wealthiest areas of the State and certainly has the
money, education, and community participation to have a model jail system,
yet we don’t even come close.
We all knew back in the early 90’s that, not only was the overcrowding
dangerous to the inmates, but to the deputies working there as well. Sadly,
the then Sheriff Joe McQueen, and the County Commissioners, failed to
act on the overcrowding problem. When it became obvious that overcrowding
could be a deadly situation for both the inmates as well as the jailers,
no one acted. That is until 1998 when an organization representing prisoners’
rights made a serious threat. Michael Hamden, a lawyer with the not-for-profit
advocates right’s agency, NC Prisoners’ Legal Services, threatened
suit if the County would not keep the inmate population below 262 inmates.
The Sheriff’s department has since been shuttling inmates back and
forth all over the state at a cost of over $125,000 a month trying to
keep the NCPLS lawsuit at bay.
The new jail is now way behind schedule. One time scheduled to open in
the fall of 2001, it now looks like it won’t be in operation until
March of 2004. Cost overruns are being adjusted with creative accounting
procedures to show only a slight increase, to our taxpayers, in the projected
$48 million budget. The delays, the bickering, the poor planning, and
the lack of vision, by Sheriff McQueen and the County, to initiate this
new jail sooner, caused problems that couldn’t be overcome easily
and without great expense. We should now be looking at situations already
facing the new, yet to be finished, jail. We are projecting overcrowding
issues even before we cut the ribbon on the new jail. We have sold off
spaces to the Federal Government for their inmates to be held for trial,
we have the returning inmates who have been kept in the western part of
the State, there are inmates that require special needs, inmates that
have to be segregated, and most noteworthy of all, we have a growing crime
problem which stuffs more and more inmates into our jail. That’s
right, it is because our crime problem is so bad that we have so many
people in jail awaiting trial. It stands to reason that the less crime
we have committed here, the less numbers of people we would have to incarcerate.
Some would have you believe that it is the 2% annual increase in population
that causes our jail to overcrowd. But it is not the population, it is
a crime rate that is more than 50% over the State’s norm that fills
our courts and our jails, not only costing us our valuable tax money but
it effects the safety and security of our families and our neighborhoods.
So who is at fault, who is it that caused Gary Rummer’s death? I
would say, based on my own preliminary investigation, that it was the
deputy who, (the District Attorney excused from any criminal indictments)
at the very least, lacked the proper training and who, using poor judgment,
wrestled with Mr. Rummer causing mortal injury. I can also find fault
with the medical personnel who examined Mr. Rummer and tragically misdiagnosed
his injuries. We may never truly know who is at fault or if there is any
proof to anything, one way or another, since the SBI report is locked
up in the District Attorney’s Office and not available for outside
interpretation. But why did Rummer die? That question is a bit more complex,
but a brief answer, by me, as to why he died, would be this:
Gary Eugene Rummer died on January 16, 2003 because of the increasing
crime rates, as much as 50% higher than anywhere else in this Country.
This packs our already overcrowded jail system. Crimes associated with
the illegal drug use and trafficking here in Wilmington have overcrowded
our jails for years now. In my opinion, the responsibility of the jail’s
problems, including the death of Mr. Rummer, falls squarely on the shoulders
of those people who have consistently turned their back on this growing
It is the incompetent leadership within the Sheriff’s Department
that led to Mr. Rummer’s death. Crime is rampant, overcrowding has
faced us for the past 10 years or more, this isn’t the first questionable
death at our jail, and still no one is accountable. “ He died as
a result of his lifestyle ma’am.” A direct quote by Ms. Scarbro
describing what she was told by an official at the Sheriff’s Department,
when she asked what happened to her good friend Gary Rummer. How outrageous.
Death, rape and robberies take place inside our jail. This is the one,
single place that safety and security should be paramount. Jail, any jail,
is notoriously a bad place to end up and rightfully it should be, but
it is something that can be controlled safely. Jails are controlled safely
all over this country. Not here though. When they can’t even police
their own jail you can imagine the problems policing the entire County.
Just look at the overwhelming historical evidence pertaining to the negligence
of the leadership and abuse of power within the Sheriff's Department.
We have to remember that almost everyone in the jail is awaiting their
first trial. Technically, most of the inmates are people suspected of
committing a crime, men and women innocent, until proven guilty. Some
of these inmates will have spent months in jail awaiting trial, only to
be found not guilty later in court. Not every inmate is a criminal. Not
every inmate is even facing a prison sentence. Yet all of these inmates
are not safe. The deputies guarding the inmates are not safe. We are not
safe. Our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones are not safe, just ask
the family and friends of Mr. Rummer or Gerald Blackledge, a family member
of ex-Sheriff McQueen. Blackledge also died in custody of the New Hanover
County Jail after being picked up for a probation violation. The Blackledge
family, like the many other victimized families, settled a hefty lawsuit
against the County because of the exact same incompetence that caused
the death of Mr. Gary Eugene Rummer.
I call upon Chairman Davis and the County Board of Commissioners to immediately
make a public statement regarding the death of Mr. Rummer and report to
the citizens how corrective measures are in place to avoid further mistreatment.
Some of the incarcerated at our county jail may be innocent people. Some
are good people who have fallen temporarily under some bad circumstances.
Someone is responsible for the safety of all these inmates. We deserve
to know that there is absolutely no effort to cover this matter up by
anyone inside the Sheriff’s office. Our community’s trust
is at stake, the longer the Board of Commissioners waits to comment, the
more pain we will all suffer.
The arrogance of our officials, as evident by their lack of public concern,
troubles me deeply. In my 23 years of law enforcement and through my many
years as an advocate for the victims of crime I have never seen such disregard
for genuine accountability. It is not just the death of Mr. Rummer, it
is the awful handling of personnel issues and outrageous acts of run amuck
police officers that concern not only me, but many of our responsible
I voice my opinion to encourage others to do the same. Join with me, organize
within your churches, your places of business and become a communal voice
of concern. Justice can be served if we speak out loud enough. We must
hold our elected officials accountable, it encourages the honesty and
integrity we hope for on election day.
* * * * *
Friday, May 2, 2003, the SBI supposedly released its findings of their
investigation, of the Rummer death, to the District's Attorney's office.
Numerous attempts to obtain a comment from the DA's office and various
other officials were unsuccessful. We will do our best to get official
comments regarding the report and post it here on this site.
* * * * *
May 5th, the District Attorney sent back the report to the SBI requesting
more information. No word when the corrected report will be delivered.
The Star News May 6th edition states the following:
Saying he needs more information,
District Attorney John Carriker on Monday refused to release the results
of a state investigation into the death of New Hanover County jail inmate
Mr. Carriker said he has asked the State Bureau of Investigation to broaden
its look into Mr. Rummer's death.
"I've requested the SBI to do some additional things," he said.
"The investigation is not over yet."
* * * * *
May 29th, the District Attorney told the Star News that he has yet to
see the report from the SBI. (see Star
News May 29 article ) The SBI spokesperson, Noelle Taylor, is quoted
as saying "He has been informed verbally about what will be contained
in all that, but he may not have actually seen all the paperwork itself,"
Ms. Taylor said. "The report is completed. It is done from
the SBI's point of view."
We certainly understand the
DA's office wanting to examine all aspects of the report. However, we
feel strongly, that it is important to keep the community informed. Many
community members have relatives and loved ones in the jail and are concerned
for their safety. We also have a Sheriff's Department that needs to come
forward with the truth, so that those good men and women, wearing a badge,
feel safe and protected from the reactions of a fearful community as they
go about their job. If the sheriff fails to tell the truth, he will lose
the trust of our community. Trust is key in an efficient and effective
law-enforcement campaign to protect our families and our neighbors.
* * * * *
On June the 2nd, the District
Attorney announced his conclusion that the SBI report did not prove any
criminal wrong doing in circumstances surrounding the death of Gary Rummer.
On June the 3rd the Sheriff's
Office began their own internal investigation. "We'll just try
and determine whether our internal rules and policies were followed,"
Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom Parker said Tuesday. "We don't anticipate
That quote is from an article
by the Star News June
* * * * *
Sunday, June 9th's Star News
reports an inmate's account of Gary Rummer's last waking moments in the
New Hanover County's Jail.
version of the events that resulted in Mr. Rummer's death differs radically
from a State Bureau of Investigation report that finds Deputy Billy Ray
Hudson did not act intentionally in causing a fatal head injury to the
50-year-old inmate." from the Ken Little article in the Star
The entire article can be found by clicking