The purpose of the criminal-justice system is not to punish the guilty, but to protect the innocent. Apparently prison officials in North Carolina forgot that lesson. A former police officer in a Charlotte suburb was sent to prison after taking advantage of a teenage girl and impregnated her. And yet, prison officials fell asleep at the switch and allowed that cop to contact her.
Four years ago, James Blair, a police officer in Lowell, halfway between Charlotte and Gastonia, began mentoring a local teenager who had ambitions of becoming a cop herself. However, sometime in the summer of 2016, the girl’s mother, Karen Vaughn, noticed something was amiss. Blair frequently drove to Vaughn’s house late at night and flashed his headlights. He also brought her daughter snacks at night.
When Vaughn pressed her daughter for details, the girl dropped a bombshell–she needed a pregnancy test. Doctors subsequently confirmed that Vaughn’s daughter was indeed pregnant–and that Blair was the father. Vaughn later discovered a series of texts in which Blair urged the girl to get an abortion, or else “I’m done and you know it.” Blair was 50 years old at the time–old enough to be the girl’s grandfather.
Blair came to Vaughn’s house to find agents from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation waiting for him. He was arrested and charged with one count of statutory rape, which carried up to 20 years in prison. At the time, Gaston County prosecutors suspected there might be more victims.
Facing the prospect of the rest of his life in prison, Blair pleaded guilty to statutory rape in March 2017. He was sentenced to a minimum of 12 years in prison, and was barred from ever contacting the girl or her unborn child again. He will also have to register as a sex offender and wear an electronic ankle bracelet for the rest of his life.
Fast forward to last week, when Vaughn revealed that Blair has been trying to contact her daughter on multiple occasions. Vaughn told The Gaston Gazette that she has “begged and asked” prison officials to stop Blair from contacting her daughter, to no avail. Most recently, Blair tried to smuggle a letter out to one of his relatives with instructions to forward it to her daughter. However, according to WSOC-TV in Charlotte, prison officials intercepted that letter. He was ultimately slapped with a Class B violation, the second-worst disciplinary violation in the North Carolina prison system.
When Gaston County district attorney Locke Bell heard about this, he was “amazed that he (Blair) was stupid enough” to do this. He said that state Department of Corrections officials have the discretion to determine how Blair’s actions impact his sentence. Blair could have potentially faced spending the maximum of 20 years in prison, which would keep him locked up until just past his 71st birthday.
Vaughn told WCNC-TV in Charlotte that she wanted the maximum. Watch here.
Vaughn said that she is caring for the baby–her grandson–while her daughter is in a hospital trying to recover from the ordeal. She begged Blair to leave her daughter alone so she can “have some type of life”–something she won’t be able to do “until he stops his manipulation.” Ultimately, according to WSOC-TV, Blair had an additional two years tacked onto his sentence.
Now here’s where this gets hideous. Blair was slapped with a protective order barring him from contacting the girl or her family, but flouted it on numerous occasions. From what Vaughn is saying, even the order to never contact her daughter again didn’t stop him, despite repeated requests to prison officials. You mean to tell me that prison officials didn’t take Blair’s flouting of the earlier protective order as a warning that maybe, just maybe, they should make sure he didn’t try to contact that girl? Based on Vaughn’s claims, apparently they didn’t do so until recently.
From where I’m sitting, we should not only be asking what in the world Blair was thinking when he tried to reach out to that girl. We should also be asking why prison officials didn’t stop this sooner. Prison is not just intended to remove criminals from society, but protect their victims from the kind of behavior that took place here.
Considering the ordeal Vaughn’s daughter has had to endure, an additional two years on Blair’s sentence isn’t nearly enough. The Department of Corrections needs to take a long, hard look at how this was allowed to get this far, and a lot of people need to be fired. Vaughn and her family deserve no less.
(featured image: mugshot courtesy Gaston County Sheriff’s Office via WCNC-TV)