steve hampton

As the first of several criminal trials is underway in the deadly Vaughn prison riot, which claimed the life of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd, prisoners are seeking justice for alleged abuse they suffered at the hands of responding tactical teams and officers. 

According to a complaint filed October 31, 2018, as the first Vaughn trial seeking to prosecute inmates the state alleged to play key roles in the riot spanned its seventh day, 117 plaintiffs listed 49 defendants in the suit, filed against state employees, that range from correctional officers all way up to the warden, deputy wardens, former and current Department of Correction commissioners, and Governor John Carney. 

On the same day that the prosecution's star witness, cooperating prisoner Royal Downs, detailed what he described as a love affair with a correctional officer named Tracey--the pair donning the moniker Bonnie and Clyde as a couple--and faced harsh criticism during cross-examination, the suit claimed abuse at the hands of police in the wake of Floyd's murder with allegations like: 

  • Responding Correctional Emergency Response Team officers and state troopers failed to determine which prisoners were actually involved in rioting and which were being held as prisoners
  • Zip-ties were too tightly applied to the wrists of prisoners, who were then--while complying--spit on, stood on, kicked, and stomped. Meanwhile, the zip-ties made taking of blood pressure too difficult for nurses to accomplish successfully 
  • Passive inmates were struck with batons and electrified riot shields, pepper sprayed, and threatened with murder
  • Prisoners were forced to spread their buttocks for inspection, then instructed to "put those soiled fingers in their mouths and pull their mouths open further"

The suit alleged "systematic" torture by Delaware DOC employees upon prisoners who were also victims in the incident, and the lawsuit alleged the conditions that led to the revolt had been compounding years before the discontent came to a violent head. 

WDEL received dozens of letters, detailing what they alleged to be abuse following the incident, telling their story to both WDEL and Dover attorney Steve Hampton.  Hampton, along with lawyers Zachary A. George and James J. Woods Jr., filed the class-action lawsuit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief from future recurrences" of abuse. 

But the lawsuit, however, must be re-filed, Hampton said.  Mistakenly, two inmates who are being criminally prosecuted were included in the class-action lawsuit.  Among them, Lawrence Michaels, who goes by the nickname "Smoke."  In testimony, Downs said Michaels violently stabbed Floyd.  

A second inmate, Hampton said, had changed his name to Luis Sierra in an effort to be included in the lawsuit, but attorneys discovered he is actually Abdull-Haqq-El-Qadeer, who's also charged in the Floyd's death.  

"The criminal defendants and civil plaintiff’s have conflicts of interest," said Hampton.  

The lawsuit was re-filed and accepted Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.  

Digital Editor for WDEL.com, with more than a decade's worth of experience crafting the news for the online landscape.

Amy Cherry is the Assistant News Director and an investigative journalist at WDEL. She joined WDEL's award-winning news team in 2010 from WBZ Newsradio 1030 in Boston and has received national accolades for reporting.