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Todd Lamont Caveness, 40
Lucuma, North Carolina
September 01, 2016

Agencies: Wilson County Jail | Wilson County Sheriff's Office

Last updated: 11 months ago

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On Jan. 9, 2016, police responded to reports of gunshots in the area.  They located two victims of gunshot wounds, Theophulis Newkirk Jr., 29, of Wilson and Jo Ann Davis, 26, of Lucama.  The shooting occurred near the front entrance of the house with the victims inside the residence and the suspect believed to be outside, possibly on the front porch, investigators said.

Police charged Todd L. Caveness with two counts of attempted murder, one count of discharging a firearm in the city limits and discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling.  It appeared Caveness knew Newkirk, but no motive was known at the time of the shooting, according police. 

Caveness, 40, was held in the Wilson County Jail under a $200,000 secured bond.   He had a long history of bipolar disorder, anxiety attacks and paranoia and when he began to believe his food was poisoned and stopped eating, he lost 30 pounds over three weeks.

Because Caveness was mentally ill, so he should have been checked every quarter hour, according to North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) regulations. Guards were required to “directly supervise each inmate in person at least twice per hour at an irregular basis,” except when a prisoner is verbally abusive, attempts to harm a guard, is intoxicated, refuses to talk, threatens self-harm or displays erratic behavior – as Caveness did. In such cases, guards must provide direct observation “at least four times an hour.”

According to Wanda Samuel, Wilson County Sheriff’s chief of staff, detention officers eventually transported Caveness to the hospital to have him medically evaluated. Upon his arrival at a hospital on February 3, 2016, he was suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and kidney malfunction. Hospital staff convinced him to start eating again, but a blood clot in his lungs caused his death two days later.  At the time, Samuel said his death wasn’t suspicious and appeared to be health related before noting that an autopsy would be performed.

Because Caveness’ death did not occur at the jail, though, it was not reported to DHHS. When any of the state’s 24,000 prisoners held in its 113 jails dies, DHHS regulations require the death to be reported – but only if it occurred while in custody. Chris Wood, a DHHS investigator inquiring about Caveness’ death, was told a report was not made because he “was alive when he left the [jail] and the death was not related to a suicide.” Wood requested a full report anyway, stating it could note that Caveness did not die in custody.

When he received the jail’s report, Wood found that during Caveness’ final week at the facility, required cell checks were missed 50 times. As a result, Caveness was counted as one of 69 prisoners who died without proper supervision in a North Carolina jail since DHHS began regularly investigating such deaths in 2012 – over one-third of the 189 jail deaths reported in the state during that time period.