When North Carolina prison officials announced the death of an inmate from COVID-19 last month, they did not name him. They referred only to a man in his late 50s who was assigned to a state prison that he never entered.
That man, it turns out, was Darrell Kersey, a 59-year-old from High Point. Kersey got sick while detained in the Durham County Detention Facility.
Kersey’s death is the second COVID-19 fatality linked to the Durham jail not disclosed to the public. In April, senior detention officer Alexander Pettiway Jr. died from COVID-19 after Sheriff Clarence Birkhead announced a coronavirus outbreak there.
Kersey became sick in the beginning of August, during a publicly disclosed outbreak among inmates and staff, sheriff department spokesman David Bowser said Thursday. Because he was a state detainee, county officials could not release news of his death, Bowser said.
Kersey died from COVID-19 complications at 3:30 pm on Sept. 16 at Duke University Hospital, his death certificate shows. That is precisely the same day and time noted in the vague state press release.
Kersey entered the Durham jail last December after officers arrested him for stalking and other crimes, court records show. After pleading guilty to some of these charges, Kersey was sentenced to a state prison term in July.
But he remained in the county jail, one of a group of inmates whose transfer to a state prison was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a press release, state prison officials said the unnamed inmate who died of COVID-19 had been admitted to the hospital on Aug. 20. That was soon after Sheriff Birkhead disclosed a COVID-19 outbreak had infected 21 inmates and five staff members.
Birkhead on Sept. 8 asked county commissioners to pay for periodic testing to protect county jail inmates and staff from coronavirus. During a presentation in September, Birkhead noted that an unnamed state prisoner who was an inmate in the county jail was hospitalized with COVID-19 and had been on and off ventilators for weeks.
When asked for an update on that inmate on Oct. 7, Birkhead said he was unable to give one. “Since he is a state inmate I am not able to comment on that at this time,” the sheriff said.
Wendy Jacobs, chair of the county commissioners, said on Friday as far as she knows the sheriff’s department did not notify board members that a person who fell sick with COVID-19 in the county jail had died. But she was checking to confirm.
9th Street was unable to learn much about Darrell Kersey, beyond criminal court records and a short obituary. Efforts to reach his family were unsuccessful.
Like many North Carolina county detention facilities, the Durham jail lately has kept inmates after they were sentenced to time in state prisons.
Last month, nine state inmates were in the downtown Durham jail due to a backlog in transfers to state facilities, Birkhead said. The delay is connected to staffing shortages linked to the coronavirus, according to John Bull, a North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesman.
Coronavirus outbreaks have plagued county, state and federal correctional facilities for months. There have been at least 3,394 cases of coronavirus and at least 17 deaths among prisoners in North Carolina, according to the Marshall Project, which is logging cases nationwide.
Several organizations that advocate for prisoners rights filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina officials charging that incarcerated people in state prisons have not been adequately protected from infection.
In its death announcement, the state Department of Public Safety noted it was not sharing a name to protect “his family’s right to privacy and the confidentiality of prison offender records.”
Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, a spokesperson for the ACLU, one plaintiff in the suit alleging inadequate inmate protections, expressed concern for the safety of all those in custody in North Carolina.
“We have significant concerns about protecting the health of people who are incarcerated — be it in prisons or jails — during a global pandemic,” he said. “It’s clear that shared living spaces and densely populated facilities provide an environment in which this virus can spread quickly.”
9th Street reporter Dryden Quigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org