NC Department of Correction - Correction News - November 1998

Spotlight on New Hanover County Community Corrections

Terry Gootee supervises 86 people in the fifth judicial district. Wilmington is his hometown, but he worked in Charlotte for ten years. Being in the middle of a storm is nothing new to Gootee and his family. For generations, his family has lived on the coast and weathered many a storm. His grandmother was 14 years old when the Hurricane of 1926 hit Miami and literally blew her above power lines to an abandoned hospital where she found shelter from the storm. Her father rented beach cottages and the family lived in one. There were no warning systems then as there are today. When the hurricane hit, and the cottage was coming apart around them, the father had tight hold of his daughter’s hand, but the wind separated them. It took two weeks for the family to find one another. They were all safe, but the uninsured cottages were gone. His 86 year-old grandmother, Gertrude Brinson, lives in Wilmington now and takes these storms in stride.
Melinda Murrill has been with Community Corrections for six and a half years. She checked licenses at the northern end of Carolina Beach after the hurricane swept through. "When you start telling people they can’t go to their house, they are very upset and angry," Murrill said. "I try to be sympathetic and understanding, but tell them it’s just too dangerous to go."

Mark Pittman is an Intensive officer. During his 15 years with Community Corrections, Pittman developed the electronic house arrest program for the Wilmington area. He is now a firearms instructor and teaches unarmed self defense and pepper spray training. Pittman stopped traffic at the main intersection of Carolina Beach and said the residents showed a lot of gratitude for the officers’ work. "We didn’t anticipate that," Pittman said. "The residents have become dependent on us, saying, ‘We really appreciate you watching our property.’ That was rewarding."

Pam Grissom shows how far the water rose during Hurricane Bonnie. The old magistrate’s office was abandoned after Hurricane Fran. Grissom was a housewife for 15 years before the magistrate at Carolina Beach suggested that she would make a good probation and parole officer. Now she can’t wait to go to work each morning. "I was from Cary, and had never seen a criminal before," Grissom said. "I like the uncertainty when you go into work, not knowing what’s going to happen that day." Grissom was ready for Bonnie. "We felt it was the best thing for us to do. We couldn’t do anything at home anyway, with the power out, and we felt we should be there for the residents." She said the type of work they do, always being on call, goes hand-in-hand with hurricane duty.

Rodney Smith has been a surveillance officer for three years and had been a correctional officer for eight years at Brown Creek Correctional Institution and Union Correctional Center. He also worked seven years for the federal prison system. "There were a lot of upset people when they found their property was devastated," Smith said. "They came back through the check points with their cars piled high with wet blankets. Some asked where they could go."
Kelly Webb has worked in Community Corrections for 17 years. When called on following Hurricane Bonnie, she helped secure street corners, blocking off the road and allowing only residents who had valid ID with their address on it. Unlike Hurricane Fran, the beach was open to the public the next day. Even though some cars floated across the street, Hurricane Bonnie was not as severe at Carolina Beach as Fran was, Webb said.

Gerry Rojas spent 15 years in the Marine Corps doing criminal investigations and polygraphs before coming to work for Community Corrections nearly three years ago. He laughs at the irony of being in Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations for the military, yet, "The State says I can’t carry a gun." Rojas, born in Puerto Rico, has a heavy Hispanic caseload and is often called on by the courts to interpret testimony. His brother, a police officer in Puerto Rico, is dealing with the blows from Hurricane Georges and said that it may be January before power is fully restored on that island. Although Bonnie wasn’t as harsh, Rojas said he saw several people crying and could see the emotional stress in their faces from the devastation of their property.


Photos and text by Patty McQuillan

Terry Gootee, manager of Judicial District 5, found himself with an injured pelican plopped in his arms after Hurricane Bonnie hit Sept. 25. Two dogs hungrily eyed the bird as a Carolina Beach resident deposited the critter and left. Gootee quickly called the animal rescue folks who were, fortunately, not too far away.

Six officers of Wilmington’s Community Corrections staff, Judicial District 5, whose beat is Carolina Beach, and Gootee, agreed to help the Carolina Beach police if the hurricane hit there. When Bonnie did come ashore, the chief of police called for their help. Community Corrections officers set up roadblocks until roadways were cleared and downed wires repaired.

The same officers worked following Hurricane Fran in 1996 when residents were upset and angry at not being allowed back on the island. This time, residents thanked the officers for their work keeping looters and rubberneckers away from their property.

Other employees from JD5 were on stand-by if help was needed. The entire office must prepare for a storm by securing the office building, collecting all the Electronic House Arrest equipment from offenders and returning it promptly when the storm has passed.

While waiting for power to be restored, surveillance officers take on the supervision of the offenders. Phone trees are set up to notify staff that they are needed.

Although not as devastating as Hurricane Fran, Hurricane Bonnie left Carolina Beach in worse shape than most other areas on the coast. Sand covered the famous boardwalk, water damaged many of the buildings, power lines were down and property severely damaged.

Carolina Beach has a unique caseload, made up of fishermen who may be out to sea for several months, ex-hippies, and transient people who have no transportation and whose life is on the beach. Some out-of-towners who think living is easy at the beach discover it’s not as easy as they thought and find themselves in trouble, officers say. Drugs, alcohol and breaking and enterings with an occasional stabbing in the summertime are the typical crimes committed by offenders.

There is a high concentration of bars along the boardwalk at Carolina Beach, to which the Community Corrections officers have coined their own jingle, "Come on vacation, leave on probation."

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