FOX 46 Charlotte Investigation: Criminals calling hits from inside prison walls

- An attack on a prison officer - beyond the bared wire. 

Criminals are calling hits using cell phones from inside prison walls, making no one safe. 

"$6,000 is what they paid to kill me. You know, not to injure me...the intention was to kill me," Robert Johnson said. 

A hit on a prison officer - his unbelievable story of survival that started when a criminal got his hands on a cell phone inside the prison walls. 

"So there don't care who they hurt. They just don't want the contraband found," Johnson said. 

It happened so fast, six shots fired point blank at a man whose job it was to keep others safe. 

"Last thing I remember was the biggest gun I ever saw coming up at my face," Johnson explained. 

Johnson used to be a captain at the County Prison in South Carolina before he almost lost his life. 

"We were always what we say 10 seconds from chaos," Johnson said. 

Johnson served as a prison officer for more than 20 years, but never did he feel his life was at risk inside the prison walls. 

"They felt that I was...had to be taken out and they went after me," Johnson said. 

He was in his home 30 miles away from the prison with his wife when a man broke in and started shooting. 

"I got up, it was about 5:30...went in the back bathroom so I wouldn't wake my wife. I turned the light on and just maybe five minutes and all of a sudden I heard a boom, and I heard someone yell police," Johnson said. 

But this wasn't just a random home invasion. It was planned. 

"Johnson, I've got word that there's a hit on you and there's a hit on me. I don't know how credible it is but you've got to be careful," Johnson explained what he was told by a fellow corrections officer. 

The man who pulled the trigger? A convicted felon and former County prisoner who had been paid by another inmate from inside the prison itself to kill Captain Johnson. 

"He said you've been shot six times...I had holes all over," Johnson said. 

Doctors told Johnson's family that he wouldn't make it and to go ahead and start making funeral arrangements. 

"He's gonna die, there's nothing we can do to stop the bleeding," Johnson said, explaining what his family was told in the hospital. 

But six years later Johnson is alive to talk about what happened. Although his life will never been the same. 

"My right lung, my right diaphragm, and my liver grew together and they became one solid mass. So I breathe with 50 percent lung capacity," Johnson said. 

The hit that almost took Johnson's life set up by an inmate using a cell phone that had been smugled inside the prison. Crimes like Johnson's are happening in prisons all across the country and anyone is at risk. 

It's something the Director South Carolina Department of Corrections Ryan Sterling is trying to combat in any way possible. 

"Just like Bonnie and Clyde used the technology of a car to rob banks...now folks don't have to leave their homes to commit crimes, as we've seen all throughout the country," Sterling said. 

Sterling has been fighting the FCC to come up with a way to keep contraband cell phones out of prisons. 

"Prisons were designed to keep people in, not keep things out," Sterling explained. 

And prisoners are coming up with the most unthinkable ways to smuggle in cell phones inside. Prisoners are smuggling cell phones in via drones, potato guns, and even in the carcasses of dead animals. 

Prison officials told FOX 46 Charlotte they've found bodies of dead cats in the prison yard that have been flung over the fence from the outside. Inside those dead carcasses are cell phones. 

"They have all day, every day to think about how to smuggle contraband in," Sterling said. 

And the scary part is every one is at risk. These prisoners can be scheming a crime that's very involved and dangerous - and innocent people could be caught in the middle.

It's a problem that's being fought on an ever higher level in Washington, D.C. 

"Contraband has always been an issue in prisons. But in the age of the smart phone prisoners are using them for all kinds of things, like running drug operations, ordering gang hits, running scams on innocent victims," Commissioner Ajit Pai, FCC, said. 

The commissioner wants cell phone companies to block the signal from all prisons. But the carriers won't do it because it hurts their bottom line. 

The solutions to make these cell phones don't get into the wrong hands are endless. And one man pushing for it with every last breath is the one who took the bullets and was lucky enough to survive to fight the system that broke him in the first place.

"I've suffered. This hurt. I'm in pain 24/7, always. My foot is like it's on fire all the time. At the end of the day it's like a big fire, it hurts when I got to bed and I am not going to let this happen to me again," Johnson said. 

 

 

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