In February 2017 as an inmate riot was underway at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna that would result in the murder of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd, negotiations were conducted over radio.
"Education--we want education first and foremost," one of the offenders was heard saying.
Wednesday, WDEL took part in a tour of a new educational wing at Vaughn prison's maximum security unit. It will offer classroom instruction for offenders who are interested in obtaining a GED.
There's also an automotive training area.
"For the first time in our history we are able to offer significant and life-changing education and treatment opportunities to our maximum security offenders," Vaughn Prison Warden Dana Metzger said.
Treatment, mental health programs and instruction in anger management techniques are also now within easy access of the more than 300 offenders who are housed in the maximum security unit.
"Let's face it, a majority of the offenders in this building are going to be released," Commissioner of Correction Claire DeMatteis said. "As they walk out prison doors it behooves us to get them better education skills and better life skills so that they can be productive on the outside."
DeMatteis also added that the DOC originally asked for funding for the new building in 2015. The 2018 budget allocation came after an independent review of the circumstances surrounding the 2017 inmate riot.
Salaries were hiked for correctional officers, and many new cameras were also installed. The education component was also part of Governor John Carney's Executive Order 27, which was designed to support re-entry programs and reduce recidivism.
The education space resembles typical classrooms, until you look closely at the desks. They are constructed entirely of metal. A small metal fence is attached to one side.
Also, offenders are shackled by their ankles to the desks during instruction time.
However, it's also an opportunity for them to learn and to think about what's ahead.
"You've got people who want to learn. It doesn't matter if you're teaching middle school, high school or here in the prison system. Your goal is to come in, teach and make that person better than when they walked in your room," instructor Marc Dickerson said.
According to Secretary of Education Susan Bunting:
"This project is an opportunity for these men to prove that high security prisoners can take advantage of support services and they can make a conscious decision to change the direction of their lives."
More than two years after a fatal riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC) in Smyrna, trust and morale remain low in the organization, according to a survey of correctional officers.
WDEL exclusively obtained the results of the anonymous survey, which sought to gauge the climate in the state's prisons. The survey was administered online in March of 2019 as part of Wilmington University student Rick Brewer's doctoral program.
Just under 20 percent, or 329 of the Delaware Department of Correction's 2,200 officers, completed the survey, which Brewer determined was enough to make the study "credible" and "dependable."
The results signal many of the same issues identified by an independent review team after the riot--which killed Lt. Steven Floyd--still currently remain. Officers expressed they still feel there's a disconnect between leadership and front-line correctional officers that's led to "hostility and resentment."
An analysis of the findings concluded those feelings have resulted in "a lack of trust, high turnover, and numerous vacant positions that have been hard to fill--findings in line with the independent review team's public report.
Nearly 45 percent of respondents said they don't feel any emotional attachment to the organization and don't feel like they're "part of a family." However, the survey results contained some brighter, albeit contradictory, highlights. More than 42 percent of respondents said the organization means a "great deal" to them and they'd be happy to remain with the organization, despite a lack of emotional attachment.
Seventy percent of respondents called staying with the department a "necessity" over a "desire." Sixty-three percent expressed that leaving would be "very hard...even if they wanted to" due to the potential life disruption a departure might cause. About half of those surveyed fear they have "too few options" to consider leaving, while 61 percent attested that too much of "himself/herself" had already been placed in the organization to leave.
Brewer attributes the contradictory results to respondents' age. In a final report issued about the survey, he said a large number of respondents were age 50 or older and had spent two decades or more with the Department of Correction.
"Hearing feedback like this motivates me, and we will continue to do better," said Commissioner Claire DeMatteis.
In an exclusive sit-down with WDEL, DeMatteis said, in spite of the results, she believes the department has come a long way and she's seen a "marked difference" in morale. DeMatteis, a former attorney for then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden, led the independent review team and was confirmed as the first female prison commissioner in June of 2019.
"The Department of Correction is not a troubled or beleaguered agency; it is a solid agency that's focused on public safety, [and] we're committed to our mission of re-entry," she said. "I believe the Department of Correction continues to have to work on building trust, sustaining trust, and enhancing trust. I will believe that every day that I'm commissioner."
She pointed to efforts made to highlight positive news both behind bars and on the part of its staffers, on and off the job.
"Officers off-duty who helped save a life in a car accident, I called the person; we promoted it on social media; we nominated them for an award that they received--you feel that they understand that leadership has their back, and we're determined to get the good news about this department out," she said. "We've gotten some great feedback from officers and their families [who said] thanks for shouting out the good work that we're doing."
DeMatteis pointed to the state employee charitable contribution campaign, which she said has seen contributions to United Way decline statewide. As the second largest department in the state, DeMatteis said its employees haven't raised more than $7,000 annually. This year, the department blew its goal out of the water, raising $20,000. During a breakfast with Santa, 200 officers and their families attended and raised more money than ever for Toys for Tots.
"People are excited to do good things and to help others," she said. "You just feel that people have gotten over a very dark period in the department's history."
President of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware (COAD) Geoff Klopp, who took the survey, said employee recognition has made strides towards improving morale.
"It's a huge part in identifying when employees go above and beyond and do a great job--that's something that we haven't been quite as efficient at as we are right now...We are being more proactive in acknowledging the good things that our employees are doing, and hopefully, we'll start to see dividends as well," said Klopp.
DeMatteis cited almost entirely new leadership at Vaughn with helping improve what the independent review found was a "toxic culture" allowed to fester for years. Dana Metzger is now warden at JTVCC.
"The [new] warden spent his career in the military; he ran military prisons, including in Iraq and Afghanistan; he was the military police commander at Dover Air Force Base immediately before coming to us," she said. "I joke that he's got that place running like the Dover Air Force Base now."
But despite those changes, Vaughn still needs improvement, according to Klopp.
"There's been changes in the upper administration of that facility, but the issues didn't come overnight, and we're not going to solve them overnight, but we're starting to move in the right direction, and there's still a lot of work that needs to be done in that facility when it comes to communication and management of employees there," said Klopp.
The prisons commissioner called the two-day riot at Vaughn, at its core, a failure of communication and a failure to share intelligence. While the survey showed communications remain a struggle, DeMatteis said they've been greatly enhanced by the recent implementation of a 'Daily Muster' during every shift change.
"When you change shifts, you need to get a formal communication handed down from the previous shift of incidents that had happened--concerns, good things, bad things, if there's maintenance issues--that exchange of information is so key," she said. "That has helped tremendously to improve the flow of communication from officer to officer [and] from supervisor to supervisor...during the shifts each facility now has what's called a huddle board, and it literally is a white board where you post...key metrics that every shift has to track about the facilities, about offenders, about programming."
She added the department has made significant investments, to the tune of $62 million, in training and improving the lines of communication up and down the chain of command.
"When you improve communication, you improve trust...when we demonstrate we can do that, we demonstrate to the officers that we have their back, that we trust them, and that they should trust leadership; they should trust their supervisors; they should go to them when there are issues," she said.
Klopp said he doesn't feel that warnings about suspicious inmate activity--like those that went ignored prior to the Vaughn riot--would fall on deaf ears again.
"I really don't feel that the communication lines are as broken as they were three years ago," said Klopp. "I don't think...those vital communications are slipping through cracks [anymore]."
But he noted while progress has been "acceptable" thus far, better communication is needed from middle management to line staff and from middle management to upper management.
"There's a long way to go," he told WDEL.
The survey revealed staffing challenges continue to plague correctional officers, contributing to stress and a high burnout rate.
"Being a correctional officer, I believe, is the hardest job in the state of Delaware...it is a tough job," DeMatteis said.
Despite a significant reduction in mandatory overtime, which she called "unsustainable," challenges remain.
"The best thing that we can do to relieve officer stress is get those vacancy rates down so that officers aren't having to work that unsustainable overtime because we have to run out facilities 24/7," she said.
The vacancy rate is down to 145 from 260, and DeMatteis said they aim to lower those remaining vacancies to 50 by the end of 2020.
But they've got to work twice as hard at retention.
"It doesn't make sense to invest and train an officer as hard as we do, and then lose them in three to five years, so we're trying to make it very attractive for them to stay that 20 to 25 years," said DeMatteis.
When asked about retention efforts, Klopp let out a large sigh.
"I'm not 100 percent sure, but we're just not hiring people at the rate that we need to be hiring correctional officers because the pension and salary structure are just still so far behind all the other law enforcement agencies in the state of Delaware," he said. "I feel like there's been some improvement in retention and we're making some small gains, but the staffing issue is still the glaring elephant in the room that has to be fixed.
In Fiscal Year 2019, the state raised starting salaries for correctional officers to $43,000. In past years, the starting salary for an incoming correctional officer was just $29,000; many had worked for the department for decades and still received an annual salary of less than $50,000.
Until the state makes changes to the pension and salary structure, Klopp said, the department will continue to struggle.
DeMatteis credited Klopp with creating a career ladder that shows officers' salaries all the way through 25 years of service as a great tool to promote growth and retention.
To further alleviate stress, DeMatteis said the department plans to roll-out an employee wellness program in conjunction with the University of Delaware and St. Francis Hospital in the New Year; they've also added classes like yoga.
"We thought, 'Yeah right, this is not going to go over well,' and, instead, the reports from the officers who went through was, 'This was the best program you've ever offered,' and it took trying something different to see that it really could be effective," she said.
Hefty overtime remains a huge stressor in officers' lives, Klopp said, and it's detrimental to their health.
"We need to put more emphasis on our employees' mental health, and we need to be giving them more resources...because correctional officers suffer from the highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, higher than the military or anybody else," he said. "There's still a tremendous amount of work to do to deal with burnout and stress.
"I'm grateful for the commissioner starting these initiatives, but It's probably something that should've started before she was here," said Klopp. "We're almost over [the riot]. I think there's just a little bit still tingeing around the edges. I think we'll be well past it in the next six months but yes, we are, fundamentally, over a very dark period in the Department of Correction, and we're really starting to pick up some momentum moving forward in the right direction, and it's refreshing."
To get a second glimpse into correctional officers' attitudes about their job, Klopp said he'll push for a follow-up survey, but he expressed disappointment that just 20 percent of officers engaged in the effort.
"That's a little frustrating. You have to be part of the solution, and you have to engage, and without any engagement, communication, nothing's really going to change. Hopefully, we can get some better participation," he said. "A lot of people still believe hey it's sent to my email address and there's a trail and there could be negative consequences for what I choose to say'; there's some of that...I do think that people still have some type of thought process that this could come back to bite me."
While she took issue with the phrasing of some of the questions in Brewer's survey, saying it was more geared towards corporations and not a paramilitary organization like the Department of Correction, DeMatteis said she'd be open to future surveys that gauge employees' commitment and trust.
"It was an opportunity for some officers to give feedback, and people need that outlet, and we have to learn from that," she said.
WDEL's DJ McAneny assisted with the data construction presented in this report.
History was made in Delaware Monday as Claire DeMatteis became the first woman to be sworn in as Commissioner of Correction.
As family members, elected officials and many DOC officers and employees looked on, DeMatteis took the oath of office at the correctional administrative and training complex in Dover.
She has become very familiar with the system and its operations over the past two years as a special assistant. First, DeMatteis oversaw reforms based on the findings of an independent review commission that examined the 2017 Vaughn Prison riot that resulted in the murder of Lieutenant Steven Floyd.
Most recently, DeMatteis' focus has been on re-entry.
"We will face challenges. It is the nature of the job we signed up for," DeMatteis said shortly after she was sworn in. "But with the memory of Lieutenant Steven Floyd and the ultimate sacrifice he and his family made for us never far from our hearts and souls, we will meet every challenge and exceed every expectation - because we have what it takes."
"We have what it takes to carry out the dual mission entrusted to us - the dual mission of public safety and second chances," DeMatteis added.
“Commissioner DeMatteis has worked hard over the past two years helping lead reform efforts at the Department of Correction – modernizing equipment and training to make our facilities safer, and helping recruit correctional officers to do one of the toughest jobs in state government. Most recently, she has worked across state agencies to implement new re-entry initiatives to help more inmates successfully transition back into their communities,” Governor John Carney said. “She is the best person to take on the difficult job as our next Commissioner of Correction, and I look forward to continuing our work together.”
DeMatteis later told WDEL her in-depth work with the DOC led her to the realization that its employees have some of the toughest jobs in the state and that they carry out their work with "heart and compassion."
"When you've been around that for two years, you want to be a part of that."
Charges have been dropped against two inmates who were scheduled to be tried in the fall in connection with the 2017 riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
The Delaware Department of Justice's announcement Wednesday comes after several trials failed to yield convictions for the murder of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd, who was found handcuffed and face down in water, dead, following the riot.
"It was a difficult decision, but in our estimation, after seeing that three trials resulted in some convictions, but the vast majority of people tried were not convicted--most recently Roman Shankaras not convicted of anything--it really would've been a futile endeavor to go forward with any more trials," said Attorney General Kathy Jennings told WDEL in an interview.
The Delaware DOJ said three juries have shown that proving beyond a reasonable doubt who was responsible for the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd's death isn't possible.
The decision also comes after the Delaware DOJ dropped charges against six inmates in March, following the second trial, wherein no convictions were secured.
"The prosecutors and the investigators believed that they could meet the criminal justice system's highest burden of proof. Three trials later, it became obvious to us that the result was just not going to be different if we went forward again, and so, it's incumbent upon us to analyze the cases realistically to understand the limitations that present themselves and the kind of evidence that built the case. There were convictions, initially, but with time it became less and less likely," said Jennings.
Prosecutors, whose efforts Jennings called "herculean", had very little physical evidence to rely upon--much of it destroyed by fire and water in building C. Instead, they were forced to rely on contradictory inmate testimony, which Jennings said presented a serious challenge. Going into this, she said, was always going to be one of the hardest cases to for the Delaware State Police to investigate and for her prosecutors to prove.
In Shankaras' solo trial last month, it was revealed that makeshift weapons had been found inside Building C, more than two years after the riot.
"The only witnesses who could have testified to what happened were inmates with convictions for serious offenses, and that's what our prosecutors had to present, and so they believed the people who came forward and who testified, but the jury obviously, each jury views as inmate witness with some skepticism, and as a result, by the last trial, it resulted in an acquittal," Jennings said.
Given the lack of evidence, Jennings weighed in on whether charges should've been brought in the first place.
"I'm not going to second guess anybody in this case. I believe that the Department of Justice, at the time, felt that there was credible evidence that met their ethical burden of going forward; that is they believed that the evidence could result in a conviction, when they presented it, and indeed it did, in two cases," she said. "So I'm not going to second guess their decisions. I'm really here to decide what to do; I'm dealing with the here and now and the futility of going forward at this point."
When asked whether the DOJ had indicted the right people in this case, Jennings paused before answering.
"We believe that the prosecutors and investigators who handled this case were meticulous in their determination that they had identified the people involved in the riot, and in the wrongdoing, generally, and I think it is fanciful and wrong to second guess. I believe that they did as thorough a job as possible under the very difficult circumstances they faced."
Only inmate Dwayne Staats was convicted, in the first trial, for the murder of Floyd, after he admitted to plotting the riot on the witness stand. During the same trial, Jarreau Ayers was convicted of riot, kidnapping, assault and conspiracy. Subsequent trials have otherwise resulted in acquittals or a hung jury.
"I don't think that the family of Lt. Floyd or any of the living victims in this case really need to have another trial occur with the same outcome," said Jennings. "So we have to do the tough thing, which is to examine where we are and honestly say, it does not merit going forward at this point because the result's just not going to be different."
Shankaras, the only inmate acquitted in the riot to have since been freed from prison, criticized the investigation, calling it "horrible." In an in-depth sit-down interview with WDEL, he said prosecutors and investigators should feel "ashamed and guilty" by their efforts. He had called for charges against inmates, Lawrence "Smoke" Michaels and Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz, who were scheduled for trial until now, to be dropped.
He said he's happy the charges were dropped, but described that happiness as "limited."
"What's the difference from now and several months ago? No witnesses changing, actually they got more witnesses; they got more people making more statements; they got more investigation, them finding more weapons, and testing them for DNA, so it seems like they continue progressing with the investigation and getting more witnesses and new witness statements, so and they dropping it. So what's the difference between several months ago when they had less? It was still that same quality of people," he told WDEL.
The decision comes too little too late for him.
"Way too little late and too late for a couple more people that had to go through this stuff, as I did, continuously go through it now being in another prison, being locked down...as if they committed everything they was [sic] indicted for," he said.
Prosecutors had also come under the microscope for offering a deal to the state's star witness Royal "Diamond" Downs. They insisted no other inmates were given deals in the case, but Shankaras said even a "hope" for a better life behind bars or a modified sentence was enough to get inmates to say anything, even if it wasn't true, on the witness stand.
The Delaware DOJ stressed prosecutors John Downs, Brian Robertson, and Nichole Warner are "among the best in the office."
"I think it's fair to say that they completely understand why we are not going forward and beyond that, I don't want to speak for them; they completely understand. They worked really hard, and this case is what a year and eight months old now, and that has consumed their lives, their professional lives, their non-professional lives, and so it's not easy to say, 'we're done," Jennings told WDEL.
Shankaras said prosecutors don't even realize the power of their discretion.
"I believe that they become so immune to their authority...that they're not conscious when they do violate that discretion or abuse that discretion," he said. "It's just they've been doing this for one way for so long that I don't believe they understand what was actually wrong," Shankaras said.
But the DOJ rejected that idea.
"Prosecutors offered no favorable treatment in exchange for that testimony, and the inmate witnesses not only risked their own safety but lost out on opportunities for counseling or work programs because they had to be housed apart from other inmates," said the Delaware DOJ in a written statement. "The trial team appreciates their willingness to try to help bring justice in these cases, and rejects any implication that any witness was pressured to testify."
Shankaras wants to see those who were acquitted or had the charges dropped be credited for "good time" since the riot. The Delaware Department of Correction policy can lead to early release or privileges behind bars.
"Almost three years, they say, it's just dead time, idle time, day-for-day, nothing's changing, and you ain't earning nothing," explained Shankaras. "What about the opportunity they had to get time shaved off their sentence had they been in a regular position?"
State Prosecutor A.J. Roop called that a DOC administrative function, that the attorney general's office would not be involved in determining.
"We still have to keep in mind here, although we didn't meet our burden, that doesn't mean that something didn't happen in this case...we have the highest burden of proof, which is beyond a reasonable doubt. When we don't meet our burden or decide that we can't meet our burden, that does not mean that we don't think something happened, it just means we can't reach the level of proof that we have to operate on ethically," said Roop in an interview with WDEL.
Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps said he knows the DOJ's decision to dismiss the remaining charges wasn't reached easily.
"The Department of Correction admires the perseverance and commitment demonstrated by the prosecutors and respects the resolution of the case. The DOC Family will continue to honor the life, service and legacy of Steven Floyd and will ensure his sacrifice is never forgotten," said Phelps.
Correctional Officers Association of Delaware president Geoff Klopp said he's frustrated beyond words.
"The justice system is supposed to work differently than this, and it's just hard for me to believe that this is going to be the final result of someone being brutally murdered in a riot in a prison, but it's where we are," he told WDEL in an interview.
He said while reforms within Delaware's prisons since the riot have improved correctional officers' quality of life on the job and made conditions inside the prison safer, his officers still fear a lack of justice in this case.
"Correctional officers are very taken back and fearful that if something terrible was to happen to them, the same outcome could come to fruition, and it's not a good feeling," said Klopp. "The fact that we're unable to hold somebody accountable for this heinous act is, I just don't even quite understand how it's acceptable."
Governor John Carney said while he understands the challenges in this case, he's not satisfied with the outcome.
"I am extremely frustrated and upset with this outcome. We have hoped all along that these prosecutions would bring some measure of justice for the family of Lieutenant Floyd, for all of the victims of the events of February 1, 2017, for their families, and for their fellow correctional officers," he said.
He called this a "difficult" two years for correctional officers, but remains confident that reforms put in place following the riot are working.
"Since February 1, 2017, we have been focused on improving the safety of all of our correctional facilities, modernizing equipment and training, and making investments that will help us recruit correctional officers to do one of the toughest jobs in state government. We will remain committed to that work moving forward.”
Attorney Tom Neuberger, who represented the Floyd family as well as correctional officers injured in the riot, in a civil lawsuit against the state, which was ultimately settled for $7.55 million in December of 2017, called the task of securing justice "impossible."
"Our prior AG had to rely on the oral testimony of convicted criminals. No jury would ever regularly convict all the murderers and their co-conspirators on such oral testimony which was riddled with inconsistencies and unreliability. Also, as convicted felons they are assumed to be liars under the rules of evidence," said Neuberger.
Following Shankaras being cleared of all charges, Neuberger had harsh words for the prosecution, calling them "inept" and "outclassed three times now." He also called on Attorney General Kathy Jennings to clean house in her homicide unit.
"The state needs new blood, big league players, not minor leaguers, who have been constantly out played and out classed by criminal defense lawyers," he said following the third trial.
After the department's decision Wednesday, to drop all charges and not proceed with further trials, Neuberger said he's "satisfied" that justice was attempted for all clients.
"Nothing more can be down by our new Attorney General, Kathy Jennings. There cannot be justice for the loss of Stephen Floyd's life in our criminal courts," Neuberger said. "The only justice he received was in the civil courts against the state for allowing his death to happen."
Roman Shankaras said he's tired of hearing that he beat a murder charge in the death of Lt. Steven Floyd in a riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. He said he was innocent all along.
"I enjoy this nuance of freedom. At the end of the day, I still have this stigma," he said. "I was dragged through the mud through media, and the stigma follows. Even though I was found not guilty, for some reason, it's translating to the masses, to the people, that I got off, instead of me being not guilty, innocent."
The 32-year-old from Wilmington just found a place to live and is aiming to get his driver's license in a few weeks. He plans to spend this summer working with his longtime fiancee Lillian Oliver at a summer camp for underprivileged youth. He's also working to secure a second job at a construction and roofing business. He also hopes to get married.
"She wants the cake and party," he said with a smile. "I'm happy do it."
Shankaras, whose seven-year sentence for robbery and riot was slated to be up shortly after the Feb. 1, 2017 prison takeover, sat down with WDEL for an in-depth interview. He's the first inmate who's been acquitted in the activities of the Vaughn prison uprising to be freed from prison. Others have remaining time on their sentence.
On Monday, Shankaras told WDEL he found out he was indicted by listening to the radio.
"I was sitting in the cell, and somebody said, 'Cut the radio on, they said they got the people and they gonna name 'em after the break'...it was on the news at first, but they didn't show nobody. At that point, I figured, I go to work release in November. The next month, somebody banged on the door and said, 'Yo Rome, they said your name. They said your name.' Next thing you know, you see the CERT come, and they just came on me, arrested me."
"You hear people yell to the another guy, 'He was just getting ready to go home.' My first thing was am I going to lose my loved ones over this? Because I let them know I was coming out to be productive...so when that happened...I was supposed to come home and speak about the school-to-prison pipeline...my primary concern was...will I be left alone in here? Will I be excommunicated and left alone? That was probably the scariest thing for me."
Flashback to Feb. 1 2017: 'Perpetuating the Violence'
Shankaras said he wasn't privy to plans about a violent riot and, instead, was only aware of a peaceful protest, wherein inmates would stay in the yard to stand up against what they called poor conditions and a lack of programs in the prison.
On Feb. 1, 2017, Shankaras said he did stay out in the yard when Code 1 was called. He said, when he did come inside, all signs of chaos were gone, and he went straight to his cell, where he remained. He admitted he gave up lockerboxes to help inmates block entries and exits.
"They come up the tier: 'Slide your boxes out, cover your windows, that's it.' You kick it out, if they were to tell me, 'yo stack it,' I'm going to do it. We have no more security, it's just completely lawless, so, it's like, who's not going to listen to them? So I can be confused as participating in the riot if I was stacking a box, when the whole thing is no, we're under duress, and ain't nobody going to tell them no."
When authorities breached the makeshift wall the next day, Shankaras described the terrifying moments that followed--moments that are now the subject of civil litigation filed by Dover attorney Steve Hampton, on behalf of dozens of inmates.
"When they came in, you hear, like, saws, the machinery, they was cutting through one door, and bombs like boom, boom, boom. They came in: 'In your room, in your room! You move, you die! I'll blow your head off, make my day.' You start hearing somebody dead. 'Our sergeant is dead, our sergeant is dead.' And it was just like 'f*** 'em up.'"
A lawsuit alleges inmates were brutally beaten and tortured. Shankaras is the first inmate to speak publicly about that.
"I know it's going to happen to me because you hear 'em assaulting other people. They're screaming 'I didn't do nothing. What did I do?'
So you hear 'Shut the f*** up, shut up.' And you hear it, I'm in cell 5 and they at cell 1, so you know it's coming. But you just are overwhelmed, you're anxious, you're nervous, you're frightened, your adrenaline is pumping, so you just can't move because they're talking about killing people. In my mind I got six months left, what the hell, can I die in here?"
Shankaras said, since the riot, DOC has perpetuated violence against inmates.
"They beat me, they took food...pulled some food off the bed, smashed it all on me, kicked me, stomped me, and they took this, I don't know what it was, they sprayed me, of course, so I couldn't see, so they took this, I don't know what it was, but it was an object, and they was maybe attempting to--in at attempt to sodomize me. Why you hitting back there? They hit the bone on the top of my buttocks, but it was like he was attempting to do something back there to violate me," he described.
Shankaras said his ankle still clicks, from how correctional officers and troopers twisted it to rip his sneakers off.
A 'Challenging' Prosecution
Since the riot, he said each day under DOC custody was torturous, until Shankaras heard the words "not guilty" in the courtroom just a few weeks ago.
"For the first time in my life, I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. I was never so happy at a point in time that I teared up," he said.
Shankaras, who had been dubbed the "shotcaller" of the riot in his first trial, which was abruptly halted due to a conflict with his attorney Jason Antoine, and a "puppet master" in the second trial laughed at the thought.
"I tell a bunch of lifers--the apex convicts of the prison--I'm going to tell you what to do, you gotta come to me," he laughed.
He called the investigation into the riot "horrible" and that gossip among the inmates is what the jury is now hearing on the witness stand.
"They should feel guilty. The quality of the witnesses that they had, the interviews that they're doing. They'll stop 'em from time to time and say, 'I don't want to know what somebody told you, unless they told you, just tell me what you say.' But at that point [the inmate] had already mixed everything up...when they get on the stand it's just a mixture of all of it. It's rough. You don't know what's what...you don't know the truth," he said. "What happened to a lie detector? Pull it out, do it before you move forward with this person or try to give them a deal. Make that part of the conditions of the plea agreement or getting up here to say this about people."
Shankaras told WDEL Antoine urged him to take a deal.
"The proffer came...he said, 'yo, they may get out of here. Be smart, be smart, because Royal Downs cooperated. Get your deal, first-come, first-served get the best deals,'" he said. "If I took the proffer and even indulged or entertained what was going on, I could've took everything I heard and just said, 'Yo, he told me.' And there I am home. I go home, testified, straight home....But me, I wasn't raised that way. So the paradox is I go out, I get free, but yet I'm still imprisoned for the lies I told and the souls I possibly buried in prison for the rest of they life, not knowing if it was actually true."
He was offered 20 years to plead guilty to second-degree murder, despite, he says, prosecutors knowing he was nowhere near Floyd when Floyd was murdered. He said he knew he had to fight the charges.
He alleged prosecutors knew he was outside in the prison yard when Floyd was being beaten and locked in a mop closet.
"Don't even lift a finger, but second-degree murder somehow," he said.
Shankaras told WDEL he liked Floyd.
"He actually created the opportunity for me to get the job. He hired me, to get the kitchen job. To me, he was just regular, by the book, he never wrote nobody up that I knew of. I never had to write a grievance on him," he said. "He was just normal. There was way worse people, like worse-worse, that they still got working in that place."
With no cameras and very little physical evidence--much of it destroyed by fire and water in the riot--prosecutors have been forced to rely on contradictory inmate testimony. Inmates' testimony has also changed from trial to trial as well, WDEL observed from the courtroom.
Shankaras alleged prosecutors know people are lying on the stand.
"The state has been spoiled rotten through cooperators, no mater if they're telling the truth. To me these guys was not no 'rat' or no 'snitch', they're just straight up liars."
Prosecutors have insisted no deals were cut, save for their star witness Royal Downs, who pleaded guilty to a count of riot in a secret deal that was discovered and revealed at trial. Despite Downs' voice being heard during leaked hostage negotiations, in exchange for his testimony, Downs stood to receive between zero and three additional years on his life sentence for murder in Maryland. It was also revealed at trial that a witness in Downs' Maryland murder case may be recanting, potentially opening up the door for his freedom.
"Everything was ran through me? He's so phony, it's just that...if I spend my time dwelling on hating him, it's going to cloud my judgement, and I'm going to make a mistake. So my thing is, okay, let's go out there, this is what he's saying, let's bring up everything that contradicts that."
Hinging on Hope
Shankaras doesn't think deals were offered. He said inmates' hope for even better conditions was enough to get them to say anything.
"Five years can go by and DOJ, they really mean it; they really mean we in open court saying, 'We ain't giving these guys no deal.' Technically they are right, but they have something called 4217 in prison, where DOC begins to vouch for you, and they alleviate these conditions you're under, and they can make it extremely easy for you, they can put in a solid character letter for you, to get a modified sentence. One hand washes the other.
"They're housed, the witnesses, in Gander Hill [Howard Young Correctional Center]--about 23 to 25 of them, right now, and you're wondering why their stories is morphing? Are they communicating in Gander Hill? They come back, and I'm pretty sure they're like 'Yo, this is what I said on the stand. They came at me, they caught me like this....' so are they actually strategizing for the next trial?"
It was also revealed in court that inmates also have access to news articles and other media, referencing the trial.
Delaware Department of Correction spokeswoman Jayme Gravell offered no comment, citing pending civil litigation.
The Delaware Department of Justice called the Vaughn cases incredibly challenging to prosecute. They called Shankaras' claims ludicrous.
"I cannot stress enough that these aspersions about our prosecutors are baseless and outrageous. Prosecutors do not pressure defendants or witnesses to lie; doing so would constitute an enormous ethical breach for the prosecutor and would risk a miscarriage of justice for the system," said DOJ spokesman Mat Marshall. "A prosecutor's objective is not to manufacture guilt, but to ascertain the truth and to secure justice for victims – in this case, for an innocent officer who was murdered."
Marshall added Shankaras was given his Miranda warning at the courthouse and asked if he wanted to make a statement, as were all inmates from C building.
"He asked for an attorney, and thus was not interviewed. All further discussions about charges and pleas were between prosecutors and defense counsel, which is routine. Shankaras’ attorney did inquire about a plea, and was provided an opportunity to make a statement to prosecutors, which he declined. Shankaras was ultimately offered a plea, which was rejected and which was put on the record the day jury selection began," Marshall said in an email.
'Incriminating' Kites Unique to Shankaras Case
A key piece of evidence in the case against Shankaras were incriminating kites, or prison letters written by Shankaras, which he said Downs coerced him into writing.
"He gets people to do things, he gets people to write things. He's manufactured a whole thing saying copy this word-for-word.' He was already a celebrity in the prison, he was already top, he's over-the-top now, and it's just so what? I was desperate because I'm one in, the guards is running around in masks, beating people up, I know I was scared of that--getting beat up again--I can see through observation that the guards are scared of him, so at this point, there goes my safe haven."
Shankaras said, at the time, he thought the notes would remain anonymous, and he hadn't thought about a handwriting expert linking the notes to him. Shankaras also believed Downs was planning to take the fall for the riot, and the notes would help him. Downs hung onto the notes, as a sort of insurance policy and only turned them into prosecutors when it best suited him.
"But when you sign on that dotted line with him there's always a catch. There's always a price to pay...and I know this guy's tricky, but the desperation clouded me to think properly," he said.
In closing arguments, prosecutors argued there's no way Shankaras was that stupid after spending so much time in a place like Vaughn.
"The prosecutors are out-of-touch with reality when it comes to prison...this is not how prison works. You out of touch with the reality of prison. There's guys in there 30 years, who still have to take orders, who still aren't safe, who still gets their commissary taking from the, guys sending them to beat 'em up or take whatever they got...they don't know what's going on," said Shankaras.
The Real Mastermind of the Riot
Whether Downs is the true mastermind of the riot, Shankaras said he doesn't know.
"I know they were scared of him; I never really seen guards scared of an inmate...I knew his power, especially after the riot. I told you he was some type of celebrity after that," said Shankaras. "If he was the mastermind and is--a person like that--if they believe he folded at the top, everyone else is going to freak out that believed they guilty for this stuff, and they'll plea out. That's how that work, but since we're all strangers...they didn't get that reaction. Seventeen to 18 people, one person cooperated. You don't think anybody else wanted to? It's rare. That's rare. You got a mixture of guys, some guys gonna go home, some guys got a lot of time, and guys that don't know each other, it's a perfect melting pot for you, 'You, you, you, you did it, he did it,' everybody just start shooting at each other, and it's a house of cards, but it wasn't. This happened to be anomaly."
After several failed convictions, prosecutors the charges against several inmates, who were slated to be tried for the murder of Floyd. Another inmate, Kelly Gibbs, who was preparing to plead guilty in the riot, hung himself in his cell on Thanksgiving Day.
Two inmates-- Lawrence "Smoke" Michaels and Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz--are still slated to head to trial in the fall. Shankaras said those charges should also be dropped.
Despite the trials, still more than two years later, we don't know who brutally beat and stabbed Floyd, locked him in a mop closet, and let him died.
"Everything, the trial it came out, [Royal Downs], they know what's going on--DOC, DOJ, they knew what they brought...they got the same paperwork I got, they knew what they brought. They should feel ashamed. They should feel guilty."
The woman who led Delaware's prison reform efforts following a 2017 riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center may now be the first female to oversee the entire prison system.
Governor John Carney has nominated Claire DeMatteis to the Department of Correction Commissioner's post as Perry Phelps plans to retire next month.
In 2017, DeMatteis served as special assistant to the Department of Correction, implementing recommendations made in an independent review into the riot that killed Lt. Steven Floyd.
Currently, DeMatteis is serving as special assistant coordinating comprehensive re-entry initiatives.
"For much of the last two years, Claire has worked side-by-side with Commissioner Phelps to lead reform efforts at the Department of Correction – to make our facilities safer, to invest in new equipment and training, and to recruit correctional officers to do one of the toughest jobs in state government,” said Governor Carney in a written statement. “Over three decades of experience in government and the private sector, Claire has worked closely with community leaders, legislators and law enforcement officials and has earned their respect and trust. I have full confidence that Claire’s experience and leadership qualities will serve our state well at the Department of Correction."
DeMatteis still needs confirmation by the state Senate.
She's also served former senior counsel to then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden as well as in a senior role at the Delaware Department of Labor.
Delaware Department of Correction Commission Perry Phelps will step down from his position in mid-July, the department announced Friday.
Phelps began his career in 1988 at what is now known as the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution as a correctional officer, and climbed the ranks of the system until being nominated as DOC commissioner by Gov. John Carney on December 13, 3016, and confirmed by the Delaware Senate on January 18, 2017.
“When I joined the Department of Correction, I only expected to stay for two years," Phelps said in a released statement. "I thought I would use my experience as a stepping stone for another career. I discovered that DOC was a phenomenal place to fulfill my passion for public service and am fortunate to have met extraordinary mentors, peers and supporters throughout the criminal justice system who empowered me to work my way through the ranks to become Commissioner. Serving in this role has been challenging and rewarding, but I consider it an honor and privilege. I will miss my DOC Family, but am very much looking forward to spending more time with my wife, children, and grandchildren.”
Carney commended Phelps career of service.
“Commissioner Phelps has served our state for more than three decades at the Department of Correction, working his way up from a correctional officer position to the Commissioner’s office,” the governor said in that same release. “He has led us through one of the toughest times in the Department’s history. On behalf of all Delawareans, I want to thank Commissioner Phelps for his service to our state, and his willingness to commit to the tough work at the Department of Correction. Going forward, we will remain committed to our work of making our prison facilities safer for officers and for inmates, including the work led by Commissioner Phelps and his team to help inmates successfully re-enter their communities and reduce our prison population over time.”
Phelps announcement announcement comes at the end of a week featuring the third trial in a series where only one of seven tried inmates were found guilty for their role in the death of Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd.
Inmate Roman "Rome" Shankaras will soon be a free man after being acquitted on all counts in the third trial resulting from a fatal James T. Vaughn Correctional Center riot in February 2017.
Shankaras had been charged with two counts of murder as well as kidnapping, assault, conspiracy, and riot. The jury deliberated for less than 48 hours in the case.
"I knew he was coming home, he's not a murderer; God is good...so the victory is really God and then Pat [Collins]," said his wife, Lillian Oliver, 36.
His attorney, Patrick Collins, said he's relieved for his client.
"He was prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best, and now he's ready to get on with his life," said Collins. "He wants to get back home and be with his family, and he wants to never step foot in a correctional facility ever again--he's very committed to that."
Oliver called the process difficult.
"He was supposed to be home two years ago...he was supposed to be released seven months prior to the riot...it was hard, very difficult because at one point, I felt like giving up, then there was a little part of me that told me don't give up because you believe in him--he's not a murderer--he wouldn't hurt a fly," she told WDEL.
At trial, Shankaras was painted as the "puppet master" of the prison takeover that resulted in the death of Lt. Steven Floyd.
Prosecutors have been plagued by a lack of convictions at trial due to a lack of physical evidence in the case. They've been forced to rely on inmate testimony, which at times, has been contradictory.
Defense attorneys argued the state's star witness, Royal "Diamond" Downs was the true puppet master of the riot. Shankaras' attorney called him a "self-serving, manipulative con artist."
Downs pleaded guilty to a count of riot in a secret deal with prosecutors months ahead of trial. In exchange for his testimony, he stands to get anywhere from zero to three additional years on his life sentence.
Kites, or prison letters, written by Shankaras played a pivotal role at trial. A kite Shankaras wrote to Downs said:
"Warrior as you know, this had to happen, nothing came close to this mission. You and a few others were money-focused, to me, this is getting money lol. We all seen it different," the letter said. "I was told by more than two people to let this place be, it’s a lost cause…the persistence procreated the resistance. My relentlessness in pursuing this objective started off alienating, then it gained momentum through the collective."
Another kite also detailed injuries to Floyd, who was killed during the riot after being attacked and left to bleed out in a broom closet during the ordeal.
"Warrior peeps, dude, Floyd, was hit damn near 250 to 300 times, face, neck, etc., head. Anybody with this knowledge will be doled," the kite read.
Downs testified he had led Shankaras to believe he was going to take the charges in connection with the riot.
Collins argued Downs urged Shankaras to write the kites and then held onto them as, Downs testified, as an "insurance policy."
Prosecutors called that an "overly convoluted" plot and argued there was no way Shankaras was that stupid after spending a the better part of a decade in prison.
Outside the courthouse, Collins said it's difficult to really know what resonated with the jury, who was tasked with determining whether Shankaras was guilty under the accomplice liability theory, which states that he can be held liable for the actions of others, even if he never wielded the mop wringers or shanks that inflicted injuries on correctional officers during the riot.
"Roman Shankaras, everyone conceded, never laid a hand on anybody."
"We just put on the best case that we could--that there was reasonable doubt in his guilt--and there must have been something in there that the jury found persuasive, that I greatly appreciate," he said. "I think [the state] did a very good job of presenting the best case they had...I still believe that reasonable doubt was established, and I'm just very, very relieved...that the jury felt the same way."
Collins said a lack of physical evidence wasn't an issue in the case
"The bigger issue was that there were significant credibility issues and motivation issues with Royal Downs [the state's star witness], and I think the case probably came down to a showdown of do you believe Royal Downs or do you believe Roman Shankaras?"
Prosecutor John Downs was silent as he left the courthouse.
Following the verdict, Judge William Carpenter ordered Shankaras' prompt release from prison.
Oliver said she can't wait for her reunion with Shankaras at home. She said she's looking forward to getting back to life:
"Living! And going on with our life and being out of the court system," she said. "It's been a long seven-and-a-half years."
Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps issued a brief statement on the trial outcome:
“We thank the members of the jury for their time and service to the State of Delaware. The news is upsetting, but we continue to be appreciative of the Department of Justice and Delaware State Police who diligently worked a complex case.”
Just a single inmate--Dwayne Staats--has been tried and convicted in Floyd's death.
Shankaras' acquittal is yet another blow to prosecutors, who landed no convictions in the second trial, and were forced to drop several defendants from subsequent cases. Currently, Lawrence "Smoke" Michaels and Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz are slated to head to trial in October.
Roman Shankaras stands to spend the rest of his life prison or be a free man, for the first time in more than seven years, depending on what a jury decides in the third trial stemming from the fatal prison riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February of 2017.
Closing arguments wrapped up Tuesday, May 21, 2019, following a 16-day trial which included testimony by Shankaras, 32, who was accused of being the "puppet master" of the riot that resulted in the death of the posthumously promoted Lt. Steven Floyd.
"There's nothing that you have heard that’s going to say, 'This person, this defendant...killed Sgt. Floyd.' That evidence does not exist. Sgt. Floyd was beaten to death by a combined effort of everyone who went after him," said prosecutor John Downs.
The state's case rests heavily on the accomplice liability theory, which states one person can be held liable for the actions of others.
"Was it reasonably foreseeable that people could be injured with the weapons that were compiled? Yes. So the people who planned and organized it are liable just as if they had wielded the mop wringer or the shanks themselves," asserted John Downs.
During the commission of an initial crime, all persons involved can be held responsible for the commission of any additional crimes that occur during that time as well, even if the additional crimes weren't previously agreed upon, John Downs said.
"So while it was reasonably foreseeable that assaults were going to occur, and maybe no one planned that Floyd would die, it was reasonably foreseeable that when you beat a man as brutally as the injuries you saw on Sgt. Floyd and leave him in a mop closet, that he would die. They released [Joshua] Wilkinson, they released [Winslow] Smith; Sgt. Floyd stayed there until he died...when the wheels start spinning, when the kidnapping and assaults start, and it leads to the murder, that’s accomplice liability."
But in his closing argument, defense attorney Patrick Collins attacked that theory. He claimed, under accomplice liability, the state's star witness, Royal "Diamond" Downs should've been indicted.
"Royal Downs was involved in the planning and the execution of the riot, he was a main player...Sgt. Floyd was killed, correctional officers are assaulted, how is it possible that he was not indicted for murder or assault? If we are relying on accomplice liability in this trial to pin these crimes on Roman Shankaras, then how did Royal Downs not even get indicted? Accomplice liability only works for some people and not for others, apparently."
Royal Downs pleaded guilty to a count of riot in a secret deal with prosecutors months ahead of trial. He stands to get anywhere between zero and three additional years on his life sentence for murder in exchange for his cooperation with the prosecution.
Dwayne Staats was the sole inmate convicted of murder in the death of Floyd, thus far. During the first trial, Staats took the stand and claimed responsibility for the riot. He also took the stand in Shankaras' trial, and the jury was asked not to believe "his truth" by the prosecution.
"Dwayne Staats’ truth was not acceptable. He didn’t come here to tell his truth. He swore an oath to tell the whole truth, and he told you he wasn’t going to do that. His testimony has no credibility. He wasn’t going to tell who was involved other than the people he doesn’t like—Royal Downs, and he said 'Ruck'—but nobody else, even if they were involved, he wasn’t telling," said John Downs.
Prosecutor Downs also pointed to kites, or notes written in prison, Shankaras authored which seemed to implicate his role in the riot.
"My persistence created pro-resistance, and I was relentless in how this had to be done. Warrior as you know, this had to happen, nothing came close to this mission. You and a few others were money-focused, to me, this is getting money lol," Shankaras wrote.
He asked the jury not to believe Shankaras' claims that he was "pawn" in Royal Downs' game.
"[Shankaras] told you: 'I was forced to write ‘em.' Common sense…tells you that it is not unusual when someone, anyone, is in trouble, they can make up a story. 'The dog ate my homework.' 'My brother made me do it.' 'It was an accident.' In the legal sense, there’s a phrase that is used--'admit what you can’t deny and deny what you can’t admit.' The state would suggest that’s what we have here with the defendant’s version of events. [He] admits he wrote the kites [but] can’t admit he was the author because, as he acknowledged on the stand, the author of those kites was one of the organizers of the building takeover. He wants you to think it was Royal Downs who wrote it, authored it, and sent it to him."
"Rome’s kites tell you what he did. His persistence made this happen. People told him. Twnety people told me to give it up, 'but I wouldn’t.'"
Collins told an intricate story, where he claimed Royal Downs was, in fact, the true puppet master of the riot. As he prepared to get his Maryland murder conviction overturned, Royal Downs faced a problem in that he could not face new charges in connection with the fatal riot. After getting involved on the walkie talkie with negotiations, Collins said Royal Downs knew he had to do something. Using his immense influence behind bars, Collins claimed, Royal Downs orchestrated a detailed plot with an ultimate goal of aiding the prosecution. Collins claims Royal Downs convinced Shankaras he was going to take the fall for the riot, and he coerced him into writing the kites.
"[Royal Downs] testified from his own mouth that he led Rome to believe that he and others were going to take the charges—that’s why Downs needed the information. Roman Shankaras was stupid and scared enough to go along with it."
On the stand, Downs admitted to asking for the kites in testimony as an "insurance policy." He also smuggled the kites out of prison and withheld them as evidence until the time was right. One of the kites Rome wrote to or for Downs ended with: "Let me know what you need."
"Use your common sense. Royal Downs had tricked him and hoodwinked him into providing information to him," said Collins.
He likened the words in the kite to Staats' manifesto, revealed in a prior trial, wherein Staats wrote:
"It feels surreal knowing that everything that transpired from this one thought of mine. People were victims of such a system my goal was to do something to expose the plague where the public and government will notice. All this shit is happening because of one thought in this brain of mine.”
"This is the exact type of crazy manifesto stuff that Royal Downs tricked Rome into copying. Royal Downs spent about 12 hours with Dwayne Staats before Royal Downs was released [from C Building]…side-by-side both with the radio listening to all that crazy nonsense that Dwayne Staats was spouting and that got Sgt. Floyd killed. Is it not obvious where Royal Downs got all that stuff from?" asked Collins.
Collins also compared it to Royal Downs' writing of an affidavit for a witness to recant in his murder case in Maryland. Throughout closing arguments, Collins quoted testimony that Royal Downs could "sell ice to Eskimos."
"He wrote it for [the witness] to copy. No dispute about that, and she did. He sold ice to her too," said Collins. "Is it really that far-fetched inside the prison walls that Royal Downs wrote something for Roman Shankaras to copy? This is what he does. He was playing a role 'to save lives' [when he took over prison negotiations]. Just like he was playing a role to get Roman Shankaras to write a kite. He sold a truckload of ice to the Delaware Department of Justice, and he’s going to walk out of here, some day with some sentence from zero to three years"
In prosecutorial rebuttal, Deputy Attorney General Brian Robertson called Collins' claims "overly convoluted."
"Why Rome? Why would, out of 124 people in the building, why would Royal Downs select Roman Shankaras to be his patsy in carrying out this overly convoluted scheme?" asked Robertson, attempting to cast doubt. "There's no evidence that Royal was the one to write the kites in this case."
Robertson said the defense was "desperate" to discredit the kites.
"To discredit kites do we say that the handwriting expert is wrong? Not that favorable of an option, so he has to come up with something more creative and that’s that Royal Downs 'tricked me into penning this…ignoring the prison dynamic."
He said after spending the better part of a decade behind bars, there's no way Shankaras was stupid enough to be played by Downs.
"You don’t have that experience and not get some element of being wise to what’s going on around you and the different motivations that people might have, and that’s heightened by the circumstances [of the riot]. He’s in a building where…everybody’s either a snitch or a suspect, but yet he would be just a dupe, I believe the word described as ‘stupid.’ He can’t be that stupid in this situation, it doesn’t make sense."
But Collins insisted Royal Downs played everyone.
"The only puppet master in this case is Royal Downs. He’s a self-serving, manipulative con-artist and Roman Shanakras was scared and dumb enough to be Royal Downs' latest victim."
Roman "Rome" Shankaras was the "puppet master" of the February 2017 riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, according to the state's star witness.
"I believe everything was ran through him," said Royal "Diamond" Downs on the witness stand Wednesday. "The whole thing."
Downs, who's serving a life sentence for murder in Maryland, insists he opted for a peaceful protest.
"[Violence] was going against everything that I was trying to do…I was trying to do a whole lot more…the outcome…I wasn’t ready for the outcome. I had a whole bunch of other things that I was trying to get done, and that could have mucked everything up trying to get it done, moving forward.”
It was revealed in court that Downs was referring to a possible appeal of his Maryland murder sentence with a potential witness recanting her statement.
Downs has denied being involved in takeover discussions, but spoke of "core demands" that were clearly outlined among major players, who included Rome, Jarreau "Ruck" Ayers, Dwayne Staats, and Lawrence "Smoke" Michaels, he said. Shankaras is currently on trial for the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd. Staats was convicted of murder while Ayers was found guilty of riot, conspiracy, assault, and kidnapping. Michaels heads to trial in the fall.
He said inmates wanted an audit of finances, rehabilitation and classification, more educational programs, and a reformed disciplinary system. Despite claiming he didn't advocate for violence, Downs was heard on hostage negotiations during the riot.
"Had I not [gotten involved], things would’ve gotten a whole lot worser in that building had I not done what I did," he said. "When I seen what was going on, I see how ugly it was going to get...I felt like I stepped up...I felt none of it was necessary."
The prosecution claims kites, or letters from prison, prove Shankaras' heavy involvement in the riot. Though Shankaras did not participate in any attacks on correctional officers, prosecutors argue he's guilty of the actions of others through the accomplice liability theory.
"He did all the talking...he stayed in his cell most of the night; I didn't see him do anything physical," Downs testified.
A kite Shankaras wrote to Downs said:
"Warrior as you know, this had to happen, nothing came close to this mission. You and a few others were money-focused, to me, this is getting money lol. We all seen it different," the letter said. "I was told by more than two people to let this place be, it’s a lost cause…the persistence procreated the resistance. My relentlessness in pursuing this objective started off alienating, then it gained momentum through the collective."
Another kite also detailed injuries to Lt. Steven Floyd, who was killed in the riot.
"Warrior peeps, dude, Floyd, was hit damn near 250 to 300 times, face, neck, etc., head. Anybody with this knowledge will be doled," the kite read.
Downs, on direct examination, was thoroughly questioned about the intent of the notes.
"Floyd died because [he/they] failed to meet demands," he said.
Shankaras also wrote: “Some had to be convinced, some had to be tricked, and other hands were forced. Options became limited just the way we had foreseen it would've been...I seen the look in both of your guys' eyes, and I’ve never seen ya’ll more happier than now."
Downs admitted he was not among inmates who were tricked or coerced.
"I agree something should've happened, but...I don’t know why he would say he seen it in my eyes," said Downs.
Downs also admitted to stashing Shankaras' letters in his cell, and eventually smuggling them out of prison, sending them to a family member via snail mail, secretly through another inmate, for safe-keeping.
"I held on to them because I knew I was going to be charged, and I knew what I did as far as talking to ya’ll, talking to detectives at that time, and it was clear...my involvement so I decided to hold on to 'em."
In conversations with his sister, Downs referred to the kites in code as "artwork."
Downs believed, while the kites did not exonerate him, they proved his lack of involvement. Shankaras' defense attorney Patrick Collins called it an "insurance policy."
"To some degree," Downs replied.
Downs didn't bring the kites to the attention of Delaware authorities until September 19, 2017, after he'd already spoken to police on several occasions.
When asked why Shankaras might have sent the kites, Downs said he had an idea:
"We was talking about how to get around it, ways to get around it, and one of the ways was talking about taking a charge," he said. "Staats, for sure. There was a couple other people talking about it, including myself."
Downs, who said he was housed with Rome in Building 18 after the riot, testified that he had discussions with him about claiming responsibility for the riot, as a lifer.
On cross-examination, Downs' credibility was questioned, as it's been in each trial. He pleaded guilty to a count of riot in a secret deal with prosecutors, months ahead of trial. In exchange for his testimony, he stands to face 0 to 3 years of extra time added to his sentence. Downs insisted prosecutors made him no promises.
For the first time on the stand, Downs also admitted, he offered to wear a wire behind bars to get inmates to talk about the riot, but he said prosecutors never took him up on his offer. In previous testimony, Downs said he regretted cooperating with authorities and said if he could take it back he would. None of those sentiments were expressed in the third trial.
New evidence surfaced in the third Vaughn prison riot trial, more than two years after the Feb. 2017, uprising.
During cross-examination Tuesday, Delaware State Police Cpl. Roger Cresto testified that a 9.5" shank and a metal rod were recently found in Building C. The building had been slated to be demolished in the fall of 2018, but still stands today.
Cresto said the evidence was currently in the process of being tested at a lab.
The revelation led to Roman Shankaras' defense attorney Patrick Collins to probe why some pieces evidence were tested at labs and other pieces were not. A lack of evidence in the case has made it difficult for prosecutors, who had to rely on inmate testimony, which led to no convictions in the second trial. Several investigators noted evidence--in the form of weapons, masks, or fingerprints--had been destroyed or tarnished by both water and fire during the riot.
Shankaras is currently on trial for the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd. The state's star witness Royal "Diamond" Downs took the stand Tuesday afternoon and direct examination was expected to continue Wednesday.
His solo trial comes after he was abruptly booted from the first trial after Judge William Carpenter cited a "toxic" relationship between Shankaras and his attorney. During his first trial, Shankaras was nicknamed the "shot caller" and "mastermind" of the riot, but in opening statements Monday prosecutors shied away from such connotations. Instead, they said letters, or "kites," as they're called in prison, will prove Shankaras' guilt even if he didn't wield any mop wringers or stab any correctional officers.
Shankaras' trial is the first since prosecutors dropped charges against several inmates in connection with the riot. Two defendants--Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz and Lawrence "Smoke" Michaels--are slated to head to trial in October.
In the third Vaughn prison riot trial, state prosecutors made no mention of inmate Roman "Rome" Shankaras being a "shot caller" or "mastermind" in the violent takeover that killed correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd in 2017, as was the initially speculated approach they would take.
Instead, prosecutor Nichole Warner, in opening statements, focused on the complicated theory of accomplice liability and Shankaras' alleged guilt for Floyd's death under it. Under the theory of accomplice liability, upon which many potential convictions in the Vaughn case have hinged, Warner said evidence will prove Shankaras worked with other inmates and can be held liable for their actions.
"You won’t hear…'Shankaras handled a weapon' or that his DNA was found inside the building or on a murder weapon," said Warner. "On the day of the riot, Shankaras was in his cell, but other people who were involved...were going to Rome's cell, giving him reports."
In the first trial, inmate Dwayne Staats claimed responsibility for the riot; thus far, he's been the sole inmate convicted of first-degree murder.
Warner alleged that Royal "Diamond" Downs, the state's star witness, who the jury will hear from, had discussions with Shankaras, 31, prior to the riot about holding a peaceful protest to expose ongoing issues behind bars that led do rising tensions.
"Shankaras had other ideas," alleged Warner.
Warner claimed Shankaras, who's serving a seven-year sentence for robbery, wrote about his involvement in the riot in letters, or kites, as they're called in prison, to Downs.
"Warrior as you know, this had to happen, nothing came close to this mission. You and a few others were money-focused, to me, this is getting money lol. We all seen it different," the letter said. "I was told by more than two people to let this place be, it’s a lost cause…the persistence...my relentlessness in pursuing this objective started off alienating...then it gained momentum through the collective."
A second kite, she claimed, detailed what happened to correctional officers during the coordinated attacks.
"Smith got hit in the back two to three times and the rest was mop wringer action. The counselor was tied up and left in the office," the note said.
Downs, who's serving a life sentence for murder in Maryland, had been charged in the riot. In a secret deal with prosecutor months before trial, Downs agreed to testify in exchange for a guilty plea to a count of riot, for which he'll face anywhere between 0 and 3 years of additional time behind bars.
Downs, whose voice is heard heavily on radio negotiations during the hostage situation, altered his testimony between the first two trials, including whether he had witnessed certain attacks.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Patrick Collins began his assault on Downs' credibility and while he admitted what happened to Floyd was "terrible" he stressed:
"I say this with the utmost respect: that is not what we are here for. We are not here for that," Collins said.
He noted "something" was planned on February 1, 2017, but what exactly that plan entailed, differed depending on who's spoken to at any given point.
"Who participated in what plan is the important question in this trial because prosecution has to prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that Rome is guilty of all these crimes even though he never attacked anybody, he didn’t swing any mop wringers, he didn’t put anybody in any closets, he didn’t stab anybody, as you heard a couple times there’s no DNA or forensics or anything like that correcting Rome to these terrible attacks."
Prosecutors have been forced to rely on contradictory inmate testimony in this trial since much of the DNA evidence that was recovered had been destroyed by water and fire during the riot. There were also no cameras, at the time of the riot, in Building C at the James T. Vaughn prison.
"You, as our judge called you, the judges of the facts, will get to evaluate the credibility of those witnesses, and you will get to give that testimony exactly the weight you believe it deserves—no more, no less," said Collins.
Shankaras' attorney admitted Rome wrote the kites, but said later, the jury will find out how and why he wrote them.
"And how Royal Downs planned to use those kites for their own benefit, to the extent that he smuggled them out of the prison and held them for safekeeping until it was time to strike his business deal with the prosecution."
Collins then continued his attack on the state's star witness.
"What’s on Royal Downs’ mind in the early morning hours of February 2nd? He says within minutes: ‘I’ll tell you everything you want to know but you have to do some things for me, I want to talk to a prosecutor.’ Not get me a lawyer, a prosecutor! So he can make a deal."
"You will see, Royal Downs is motivated by one thing—that is his total commitment and dedication to Royal Downs."
Testimony was expected to begin Monday for a trial expected to stretch beyond Memorial Day.
Shankaras is the only inmate to be tried solo in the case, after he was dismissed from the first trial, over what Judge Carpenter called a "toxic relationship" between Shankaras and his former attorney. He's also the first to be tried since prosecutions dropped charges against several inmates in the riot after failing to secure convictions.
Opening statements are expected to get underway Monday in the third Vaughn prison riot trial.
Inmate Roman Shankaras will be tried solo for the murder of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd in the February 2017 riot.
Shankaras was originally part of the first group of inmates on trial, but was removed by Judge William Carpenter, who cited a hostile relationship between Shankaras and his attorney. Carpenter feared that volatile relationship could have affected the trials of three other inmates.
Shankaras was initially called the "shotcaller" and mastermind of the plot by prosecutors, but during the first trial, Dwayne Staats testified to the contrary, that he planned the attack in which correctional officers were kidnapped. Staats had said Floyd's death was never part of the plan.
Shankaras is serving a seven-year prison sentence for riot and robbery.
His trial will be the first since prosecutors announced they had dropped charges against several of the inmates charged in the riot. The decision came after prosecutions failed to secure any convictions in the second trial.
In October, inmates Lawrence "Smoke" Michaels and Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz will head to trial.
The case has very little physical evidence and is mostly built upon contradictory testimony from inmates.
A Wilmington University student is surveying the climate within the Delaware Department of Correction, more than two years after a riot killed a correctional officer and the resulting trials led to few convictions.
Organizational Learning, Leadership, and Innovation doctoral candidate Rick Brewer of Dover developed the 60-question survey that seeks to learn officers' thoughts and feelings about their job and gauge their commitment to the department.
Through SurveyMonkey, DOC employees were asked to strongly agree or disagree with statements like:
"My supervisor puts my best interest ahead of his or her own. My supervisor does everything he or she can to help me. My supervisor sacrifices his or her own interests to meet my needs," he said. "Things like: 'I would be happy to spend the rest of my career with this organization. I feel I owe this organization a lot.'"
He's also seeking to determine whether employees love their job and want to be there or whether they feel obligated to be there due to retirement on the horizon or family pressures to remain in-state.
Brewer plans to compare survey results to the findings of an independent review--completed in the wake of the Feb. 2017 riot that killed Lt. Steven Floyd--which found archaic systems, low morale, and an overall toxic culture contributed to the riot.
"It talks a lot about burnout, job dissatisfaction, very poor communication, a lack of leadership, job ambiguity, sicknesses, suicides," he said. "You name it, the gamut as far as the negative things."
The report found that many that many correctional officers were solely concerned with getting through the day safely and had no other sense of purpose or greater mission in their job. "Not one officer could provide a consistent response when asked what was expected of them as an employee of the DOC. Supervisors also described inconsistency in how they supervised staff at the JTVCC, as well as inconsistency throughout the organization," the report said.
He also aims to see whether attitudes have changed since steps have been taken to improve correctional officers' pay and increase training and cameras in facilities.
Brewer turned to DOC to assist with his dissertation after he said several service-oriented companies like Southwest, Lowes, and Chik-fil-A had turned him down when he caught up with DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps while working at Dover Air Force Base.
The survey was administered online over the course of a month, and Brewer is now in the beginning of the analysis stages.
"Of the population of approximately, 2,200 correctional officers and probation officers, combined, I needed 440, and I actually got 413 responses--320 of which were completed--so a lot of people didn't complete the survey, and a lot of people skipped some of the questions...but I got about an 18 percent return rate, and the norm is about 10 percent," said Brewer.
The survey was anonymous, with participants only revealing age, gender, and tenure of employment, in hopes of removing any potential fear of retaliation or retribution from staffers' minds.
All results will be shared with the Delaware DOC in an effort to help improve the culture.
"It's going to give them a snapshot of what the employees think of their leadership. Are they servant-type leaders or do they really not care about their employees? Do they trust their leaders? And what type of commitment level do they have? I'm hoping all of the results, when they look at them, will help them with recruitment, retention, and maybe, leadership development."
The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center now has security camera recommendations implemented resulting from an Independent Review conducted following a riot and takeover that left a correctional officer dead, the Delaware Department of Correction announced Monday.
“The safety of staff and inmates is a priority at all DOC facilities,” said Commissioner Perry Phelps. “Without talented IT professionals and support from Governor [John] Carney and the legislature, this project would not have been possible. We could not be more thankful for their advocacy on behalf of our DOC family.”
The organization said the Smyrna prison camera system work was accomplished 10 months ahead of schedule. The main entrance to the prison was renamed for murdered correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd just six days prior to the announcement.
The $2.5 million project was initiated in October 2017, months after the riot in February of that same year. More than 700 cameras and supporting infrastructure were installed in 14 months, and "significantly increases the safety and security of staff and inmates housed at JTVCC," the DOC said.
At the time of the riot, Building C had no cameras; it's slated to be demolished in the near future.
Lieutenant Steven R. Floyd Senior's name will now be seen by each visitor or employee who reports to the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.
A sign that renames the main entrance way after the correctional officer who was killed during the February 2017 inmate riot was unveiled Tuesday. The gathering included members of Floyd's family as well as many of his colleagues.
"Naming this entrance road and placing this sign here will serve as a reminder to everyone who uses it or passes by of Lieutenant Floyd's bravery and his dedication to the department," Delaware Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps said.
According to Phelps, the idea to honor Floyd came from another correctional officer.
"This is healing. This is a step in the right direction," Correctional Officers Association of Delaware President Geoff Klopp said. "This is making sure that Steve is always remembered 20 years down the road when new correctional officers come to work."
The incident was extensively reviewed, and Klopp said increases in compensation and benefits have not been enough to offset losses in the workforce. He also said officers are still putting in extensive amounts of overtime.
"Things are a little bit safer. They're still not where they need to be," Klopp added.
According to Klopp, morale has also been affected by the ongoing efforts to prosecute inmates who were identified as possible suspects in Floyd's murder. Only one has been convicted of murder. Three more inmates will be tried soon, but others have had charges dropped against them.
"I understand the AG's office and prosecutors are working very hard. It's a very difficult case. But, we absolutely need to have somebody held accountable for Steve's murder and we're not there yet," Klopp said.
"Obviously we want to see someone held accountable and we want to see the right people held accountable," Phelps said.
During his remarks, Governor John Carney said he was committed to ensuring that what happened to Floyd would not happen again.
Mostly, the day was about remembering Steven Floyd and honoring his 16 years with the DOC.
"This road, dedicated in Lieutenant Floyd's honor, is a reminder that his service and sacrifice has not been, nor will it be, forgotten," Carney said. "I extend my deepest appreciation to everyone who worked together to make this dedication a reality. Thank you to all of our law enforcement officers and the entire Department of Correction family for their service to our state every day."
Charges are being dropped against several inmates who were scheduled to head to trial later this year in connection with the fatal prison riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in 2017.
Inmates Corey Smith and Robert Hernandez, who were due to be tried in April will no longer be charged in the case, the Delaware Attorney General's Office announced Friday, March 15, 2019.
Additionally, inmates Louis Sierra, Jonatan Rodriguez, Janiis Mathis, Pedro Chairez, who were scheduled for trial in October will also see all charges dropped.
The decision comes after the prosecution failed to secure any convictions in the last trial in February, which included inmates Obadiah Miller, Abednego Baynes, Kevin Berry, and John Bramble. Some counts against inmates resulted in a hung jury rather than acquittal.
The case has very little physical evidence and is mostly built upon contradictory testimony from inmates.
"Prosecutors have an obligation only to prosecute criminal cases where they believe there is a reasonable likelihood of a conviction at trial based on the evidence," said Delaware DOJ spokesman Mat Marshall in an emailed statement. "Prosecutors in the Vaughn trials – who are among the Department’s most experienced and who have done a remarkable job in an exceedingly difficult case – have evaluated the evidence against the remaining defendants in light of the testimony in the first two trials and the results of those trials."
Trial will proceed in April against Roman Shankaras, who will be the only prison to be tried solo in the case. That decision comes after Shankaras, who's been called the "shotcaller" in the riot, was removed from the first group of inmates because the Judge William Carpenter determined his "toxic" relationship with his attorney could negatively impact other inmates who were on trial.
In October, inmates Lawrence "Smoke" Michaels and Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz will head to trial.
"Obtaining a measure of justice for victims is of paramount importance in all prosecution decisions. This was discussed with the victims in the case, and they were informed of the decision," said Marshall.
The three remaining inmates face counts of murder in the death of Lt. Steven Floyd as well assault, kidnapping, riot, and conspiracy.
Four men charged in connection to the murder of a correctional officer in a violent prison riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna in February 2017, have been found not guilty of that charge.
The verdicts returned Monday, February 18, 2019, against Obadiah Miller, Abednego Baynes, Kevin Berry, and John Bramble were handed down after a trial that took more than a month to try, but saw a verdict arrive after less than five full days of jury deliberations.
There was no unanimous verdict. The jury was at an impasse on some counts.
WDEL's Amy Cherry breaks down the Vaughn verdict and what it means for future trials:
Riot – no decision
Felony murder – no decision
Murder of law enforcement officer –no decision
First-degree Assault, Officer Joshua Wilkinson – not guilty
First-degree Assault, Officer Winslow Smith – not guilty
Kidnapping Lt. Steven Floyd – not guilty
Kidnapping – Wilkinson – not guilty
Kidnapping - Smith – not guilty
Kidnapping - Patricia May – not guilty
Conspiracy – not guilty
Riot – no decision
Murder felony – not guilty
Murder law enforcement officer – not guilty
First-degree assault, Officer Joshua Wilkinson – not guilty
First-degree assault on Officer Winslow Smith – no decision
First-degree kidnapping, Lt. Steven Floyd – not guilty
Kidnapping, Officer Joshua Wilkinson – not guilty
Kidnapping Officer Winslow Smith – not guilty
Kidnapping - Patricia May – not guilty
Conspiracy – not guilty
Riot - not guilty
Murder - not guilty
Murder of law enforcement officer - not guilty
Assault, two counts - not guilty
Kidnapping all counts - not guilty
Conspiracy - not guilty
Riot – not guilty
Murder 1st degree felony – not guilty
Murder in 1st degree law enforcement officer – not guilty
Assault – not guilty
Kidnapping –not guilty
Conspiracy – not guilty
Berry's attorney Andy Witherell said the jury came to the only decision they could, given the little evidence. He said his client should have never been indicted.
"As the jury heard...it only took two people to say something negative that brought him then to be indicted and charged so I think that the jury noticed that and noticed that the evidence presented was sparse, at best, and they acquitted Kevin," said Witherell.
Witherell said he's ecstatic for Berry.
"I think the jury took a long time, a considerable amount of time to review the evidence; I think they came to the right conclusion," said Witherell. "It was a difficult case...it was not one of your common cases where there's not all your physical evidence, and the ballistics that you would typically see; it was a unique case...and that's what they had, and unfortunately, for the state, that was the position they had, and we were able to essentially capitalize on it because there was nothing there to support the conviction."
Berry's lifelong friend Sidney Brooks, who attended trial whenever she could, said she was excited for the outcome.
"I just knew it! I knew it, I knew it," she said. "I think it was pure BS. I knew he was innocent. I know him, I've known him for a long time, since we was 9, 10 years old, so I'm just excited that he's found not guilty, I'm very, very excited. He gets a second chance."
Afterwards, Witherell said his client's reaction was simple: "He said, 'Thank you.'
Cleon Cauley, who represented Abednego Baynes, who was also acquitted on all counts, was also thrilled.
"[I'm] excited, grateful...appreciative to the jury; it's always kind of heartbreaking when there's a death involved, however, with regards to the evidence against our client, this was the just and right outcome," said Cauley. "We thought from the beginning that our client was going to be vindicated...once everybody got to see the evidence against him...this was going to be the outcome."
He said his client was full of gratitude.
"Thankful to the jury, thankful to his family support, thankful to us for coming and helping him over the last year or so," said Cauley.
Obadiah Miller was acquitted on several counts, but the jury remained hung on two counts of murder and a count of riot. Miller was the only defendant whose partial DNA was found in the mop closet, where Lt. Steven Floyd was killed. But as his defense attorney, Tony Figliola, explained, Miller was a tier man, whose janitorial duties caused him to frequent that closet.
"There was a lot of evidence against Miller and to walk out of there with not guilty verdicts was very pleased," said Figliola. "[Miller] had a big smile and said, 'thank you' which is all you can ask for."
John Bramble was acquitted on all counts, except for riot and the assault of Officer Winslow Smith, who was badly beaten during the riot. Bramble's attorney said the jury made the correct choice.
"I'm happy, relieved, and I think the jury got it right, and they spent a lot of time listening and evaluating, but the overall feeling was there never was enough evidence to convict my client and some of the other clients," said Tom Pedersen.
He said Bramble was "speechless."
"He was pleasantly surprised because he was obviously bracing for the worst, he said thank you, and he was also happy for his fellow defendants," said Pedersen.
Prosecutors, who were dealt a shocking blow by the lack of convictions, had no comment on the verdict.
Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps also expressed dissatisfaction over the verdict.
"We are disappointed by the news...but we respect the decisions made by the men and women of the jury. We are grateful for the efforts of the Delaware State Police and the Department of Justice who tirelessly pursued justice on behalf of our fallen officer. Regardless of the outcome, the DOC will remain: One Family, One Team," he said in a written statement.
Phelps ducked reporters following the verdict.
What Does a Hung Jury Mean?
The state could retry both Miller and Bramble on various counts. But would they want to invest the time and money to do it? That remains to be seen.
Prosecutor John Downs has no comment while exiting the courthouse. When pressed further, he responded: "What part of no comment do you not understand?"
But Phelps appeared to hold on to hope that a re-trial was possible.
"The state may choose to re-try them in the future," he said in a written statement.
But Figliola said it would be challenging to re-try Miller.
"It's going to be difficult with all the not-guilty's on all the underlying stuff that made the charges against him look very bad," said Figliola. "We'll just talk to the state; I don't know what they're going to, it's up to them. They can't try him with any of the other groups because the charges against him are now limited...we don't know what the actual jury vote is. Maybe somehow, they can find out, and if it was overwhelming for not guilty, they may decide it's not worth trying again."
Pedersen said given the verdicts, the state should take a serious look at its case before re-trying Bramble on assault and riot.
"Hopefully, it's not worth another six weeks of the state's time for those two particular charges, but we'll just have to wait and see," he said. "The witnesses that they have called have told so many different stories, and there are so many contradictions, I don't know how they will ever convince any jury beyond a reasonable doubt based on the witnesses they have called in the first two trials."
In this trial, prosecutors dropped the charge of intentional murder of a law enforcement officer after Dwayne Staats, Jarreau Ayers, and Deric Forney were acquitted on that count in November of 2018.
Staats, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the riot, was found guilty of murder, riot, conspiracy, assault and kidnapping.
Ayers was acquitted of all murder counts but found guilty of riot, conspiracy, assault, and kidnapping.
Forney was acquitted on all counts.
A total of 18 inmates have been indicted. Sixteen were charged with murder, riot, kidnapping, assault, and conspiracy. At least two more trials will be held in connection with the riot.
The jury in the second Vaughn prison riot trial closed out the week without coming to a verdict.
The jury was dismissed for the day, Friday, February 15, 2019, around 4 p.m. after not reaching a verdict.
They went into deliberations Tuesday afternoon after a month-long trial to determine the fates of Kevin Berry, Abednego Baynes, Obadiah Miller, and John Bramble. The four are among 16 inmates indicted and charged with the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd in the February 2017 overthrow at the Smyrna prison. They also face charges of assault, kidnapping, conspiracy, and riot.
Jury deliberations will resume at 9 a.m. on Monday, which is President's Day.
With very little physical evidence and no video recordings, jurors in the James T. Vaughn prison riot trials will be forced to rely heavily on contradictory testimony from inmates.
During closing arguments, attorney Tom Pedersen said it's the statements of those "snakes" that led to the indictment of his client, John Bramble, 29, of Seaford, as well as the indictments of co-defendants Abednego Baynes, Kevin Berry, and Obadiah Miller.
"Everyone of us sitting here is two witnesses away from being a suspect. That’s all it took, two people said it, you become a suspect," asserted Pedersen. "What took you from being a suspect to an actual defendant? Who knows."
He called the investigation into the riot, which spanned two days on February 1 and 2 in 2017 and left correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd dead, one of "high-priority" with no holds and no restraints.
"Just do what you need to do to find out the killer of Sgt. Floyd...here we are two years later, this is the best that they could do. This is the best they could do. They made the accusation, they did their investigation, and the 13 people that were presented to you is the best that they could do."
He accused the state of conducting a shoddy investigation into the riot, beginning with using outdated photographs of inmates in Building C--some who've aged 10 to 20 years since their initial mugshot and arrest.
"The state of Delaware made no attempt to photograph the inmates when they were released. Did they look like they were in a fight or do they look the same way they do right now? They did not collect clothing, shoes, any kind of evidence from the inmates…we’ve heard of people changing shoes, people changing clothes. Did you look to try to find their shoes? Did you look at their clothes? Did you look in their rooms? We have no idea because nobody made any attempt," said Pedersen.
Pedersen accused prosecutor John Downs of attacking defense witnesses, but not assuring jurors that they should trust the testimony from the state's inmate witnesses.
"[Downs] won’t explain it because he can’t explain it...they can’t tell you why these witnesses are reliable and trustworthy because there is no reason," said Pedersen.
He pointed to the fact that none of the 126 inmates in Building C were separated after the incident--something prosecutors brushed off due to Delaware's small size--but something a prison expert noted was critically important in the search for truth. He also highlighted that not all of the physical evidence that was collected was sent for testing.
Pedersen said the prosecution failed to establish, through witness testimony, that Bramble was in the yard, participating in conversations immediately before the riot.
"Never happened. You never heard one witness say he was in the yard…that was important…in order to get you to the murder charge they have to tie him to accomplice liability and not a single witness from that stand told you that he ever participated in any conversations about the plan to go and takeover the prison," said Pedersen. "Mr. Aiken, who was the expert, he called that 'woofing.' [They] wrote a check that your behind can’t cash and when the state tells you they’re going to prove something to you, and they fail to do it, you have to hold them accountable."
He called back to the inmates' states of mind after the riot, where he said Melvin Williams and Antonio Guzman both said in their very first interviews:
"'I'm hoping that what happened today is going to help me get home," recounted Pedersen. "Melvin Williams pleaded with detectives: 'I don’t know anything and I wish I did because if I did I would tell you because I wanna go home.'"
Pedersen said he's "sick of hearing" whether anyone was cut any deals, and he truly believes the prosecution didn't make any secret promises.
"But what I do think and what's left unsettled is that these inmates believe that this information and cooperating and giving information is going to benefit them...what's said is just enough to keep hope alive--and when you are destined to die in jail, the only way you're getting out is in a pine box--that little bit of hope is enough to keep them on the string."
But one witness did get a deal: the state's star witness Royal "Diamond" Downs pleaded guilty to riot and stands to face no additional time on his sentence. In closing arguments, Pedersen attacked Royal Downs' credibility, which came into question on cross-examination.
"He’s a planner; he’s a shot-caller; he’s a negotiator…he played his fellow inmates, He bailed on them when he knew the ship was going down and then he played the state. He wanted to get out of Delaware--he got it; he wanted to get to Maryland--he got it. He paraded Wilkinson up and down the tier, 'If we don’t do what we tell you, this is what you’ll look like.' He’s a peacemaker. He’s on the radio: 'Floyd dead man, let’s move on to my demands.'"
"He is writing an affidavit for the witness in his original murder case to help get his murder case overturned. Did the state tell you that? No. You found out on cross-examination. Don’t let him fool you, he thinks he’s got a chance to get out of jail. He told you he didn’t do anything wrong, he hates being a snitch. He’s serving a life sentence. If he didn’t think he had a chance to get out of jail, why would he take a plea?...You really think he took a plea 'I’m going to accept my responsibility'. He’s got a plan."
In a 30-minute rebuttal--and the last words heard by the jury--prosecutor Brian Robertson called referencing "deals" a way to ignore the evidence in the case.
"There is absolutely no evidence about a deal, it's speculation. The defense invested a lot of time in attacking Royal Downs, again he's skeptical. The idea that he is the 'star witness?' He doesn't ID [Kevin] Berry or [Abednego] Baynes, he saw none of the attacks...[Royal Downs'] Maryland life sentence stays in tact. He gets the 'deal of a lifetime' because he's got a lifetime in jail, waiting for him--he's not getting out at all," said Robertson.
Pedersen called the trial "disrespectful" to Sgt. Floyd's memory.
"Do you think after all that Mr. [Royal] Downs has done to disrespect the memory of Sgt. Floyd, that it is either dignified or respectful to his memory to use him as a witness in this case? He left the building as soon as Floyd was dead because he knew he was the only witness…he’s willing to risk getting his daughter arrested so he can have some weed in jail. You think he gives a crap about these guys [the defendants] going to jail…do you think it phases him in the least to lie about somebody else?"
The defense attorney, like those that came before him, also highlighted a litany of inconsistent testimony that plagued the trial, picking apart each witness' statements, and saying their contradictions can only lead to acquittal.
"Repeating something over and over again doesn’t make it true. Saying that someone said it doesn’t make it true....these aren’t minor details about what you had for breakfast...these contradictions, these outright lies are major, major factors in this case."
But Robertson stressed that, over a period of two years, of course memories will change.
"They're not going to say the same thing, using the same words every time," he told the jury. "I think it's fair to say what was presented by state's witnesses was anything but scripted; it didn't come in exactly the same manner with exactly the same word choice, there were variations in the testimony and in different statements that were offered by those witnesses."
He also asked the jury to consider three things: movement, timing, and vantage.
"Not seeing somebody do something and saying they did nothing--not the same thing. There is no way to see every part of that building," said Robertson. "What they did or did not do is just they don't know...it's not the same as exonerating somebody. An elbow here, a shove there in the midst of a violent struggle, these are things that reasonably foreseeable to happen; they're not inconsistencies."
Robertson reiterated that Berry, Baynes, Obadiah Miller, and Bramble were "soldiers" in a coordinated attack, and that the evidence they submitted to the jury proved that beyond a reasonable doubt.
"They could be opportunists, they could be people that jumped in, people interested in seeing a CO get messed up...there's no illusion you're jumping into a schoolyard fight to help your buddy. You joined in, and it's reasonably foreseeable that you're bludgeoning COs with weapons, with fire extinguishers and mop wringers, you're going to put them in a position where they could reasonably die from that."
Pedersen's parting words to the jury:
"This kind of throw it on the wall see if it sticks justice is neither dignified nor respectful of the defendants or Sgt. Floyd, Mr. Smith, Mr. Wilkinson, and Miss May. Your job is not to fix those problems. Justice not supposed to be kind of a drive-thru where you pull up to the window and say:
'Who you got today?'
'Bramble, Baynes, and Miller.'
'OK I can give you something on two of those guys.
'OK great, you're a witness.'
That's not justice."
The fate of all four defendants now rests with the jury who was handed the case Tuesday, February 12, 2019. A verdict could come as early as this week. In the first trial, jurors deliberated for a total of less than four full days.
With the most serious charge of intentional murder of a correctional officer dropped from the docket, the jury will be left weighing contradictory testimony from inmates--the only evidence in this case--as they attempt to agree on separate verdicts against inmates Abednego Baynes, Kevin Berry, Obadiah Miller, and John Bramble on counts of first-degree murder, murder during the commission of a felony, riot, kidnapping, assault, and conspiracy.
The prosecution set forth to give its final argument Monday, February 11, 2019, on the heels of a trial that took more than a month and delved deep into the terror behind the walls at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, which left correctional officer, Lt. Steven Floyd dead.
"February 1, 2017, was a violent takeover, not a protest that went wrong. It was planned, it was organized; the attacks were done simultaneously. The staff in the building were restrained; their terror began as you heard the inmates were roaming the building, cooking, chatting, visiting, smoking some weed, while Win Smith, Josh Wilkinson, Steven Floyd, and Patricia May were held captive inside the prison, where they work, were now prisoners themselves," said Deputy Attorney General John Downs.
In a nearly 90-minute closing argument, Downs said the four defendants on trial may not have been organizers, but they played varying, "vital" roles in the takeover.
"This trial is about four of the soldiers, the ones who were actively involved in subduing correctional officers," said Downs.
Prosecutors stressed that inmates, testifying in defense of the four on trial, repeatedly said none of them had anything to do with the riot, but refused to name inmates who did--even if they knew--reminiscent of the "no snitching" policy that's prevalent in prison culture. He used defense witness and prison expert James Aiken's comments to help prove his point.
"James Aiken told you it was a powerful incentive not to do that. But that’s what we have in this case. No defense witness knows anything about who committed the attack other than [Jarreau] Ayers, [Dwayne] Staats, [already convicted] and [Kelly] Gibbs, [who hung himself on Thanksgiving Day after pleading guilty]. They just say they know who didn’t," said John Downs.
He claimed the state's witnesses have breached that code, for various reasons. Among them, state's star witness Royal Downs pleaded guilty to riot in exchange for his testimony in what one defense attorney characterized as "the deal of a lifetime." Royal Downs stands to get no additional time on his sentence, and for that, prosecutor John Downs reminded the jury they must view his testimony critically and look for corroborating evidence and testimony, which they outlined.
John Downs touted testimony from Henry Anderson, who said he saw Abednego Baynes holding Sgt. Steven Floyd's arm.
"I recognize Baynes' stocky build," Anderson said.
Another inmate, Antonio Guzman, testified, according to John Downs, that he saw Baynes "running down the tier with a shank."
In closing arguments, Baynes' attorney Cleon Cauley picked that apart.
"That's not actually what he said. He said I saw him walking with a shank well after the event actually happened, well after the riot, when everything was over," said Cauley, describing a time when inmates may have been armed to protect themselves.
Cauley also highlighted what he called the failure of investigators in this case.
"The investigation as just poorly handled, there’s no way around it," noting no physical evidence ties his client to the riot and just two witnesses put Baynes anywhere near any attacks on correctional officers. He said the state's star witness noted Baynes was not involved in the planning of the riot.
"Mr. Baynes told you...he was listening to music while watching Rachael Ray. Suspect choice. If he was gonna lie about something, that was the time," said Cauley amid laughter from the jury. "My client is more than not guilty...he was completely and utterly out of the loop."
Prosecutors suggested because riot mastermind Dwayne Staats didn't recruit defendant Kevin Berry, perhaps, that's exactly why he took part in attacks on correctional officers.
"James Aiken told you about getting respect. Maybe, Kevin Berry needed to get respect. Henry Anderson saw him attacking [Officer Joshua] Wilkinson by A tier. Later, he saw him coming back with blood on him. [Inmate] Richard McCane saw him with blood and Staats told him to get the blood off," Downs recounted.
But Kevin Berry's attorney took an even stronger attack at Anderson's testimony.
"Whether he’s hoping to be part of the made-for-television series...I will tell you that he got on this stand, he put his hand on the Bible…swore to tell the truth..and he proceeded to burn a hole in that Bible, he burned a hole in that Bible so deep it wasn’t even funny," said Andrew Witherell.
Witherell went on to break down each of Anderson's statements to police and prosecutors--as well his witness testimony from trial to trial--revealing each time it was altered.
"The second statement that he makes, [Anderson] was asked specifically by the state and doesn’t give an answer," said Witherell. "Never mentioned Kevin on anything he says he’s done. Did you look at the prosecutors' face when that statement came out? Holy moly...how do we know how only by his prior inconsistent statements that his statement is in accurate?"
"He burned a hole in that Bible so bad he is not credible in the least, and that is the person the state is suggesting you believe."
Witherell went on to say being "merely present" doesn't make his client guilty of horrific crimes.
"There is no credible evidence that you have heard from that stand or that has been presented into evidence that Mr. Berry acted in anyway consistent with the alleged charges. He did not participate in a murder, he didn’t plan a murder, he didn’t foresee murder; he didn’t partake in anything," said Witherell.
Admitting his defense wouldn't be a popular notion, Berry suggested that Berry's indictment and prosecution was "retaliation" for the death of Floyd.
"And it’s probably not the most popular position to be asking someone to give leniency in some way shape or form against an inmate. But it’s right, and sometimes what’s popular--when we look at our conscious--may not be right. It may not, and I'm going to ask you have to the courage to stand up and do the right thing. Do the right thing. Do the just thing. The state has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt with any credible evidence Mr. Berry’s guilty of any one of these offenses."
Obadiah "OB" Miller whose name came up frequently in the first trial, was a tier man, given that job by Lt. Steven Floyd, an authority figure he admitted on the stand, he didn't really like. John Downs highlighted a litany of testimony from inmate witnesses for the state.
"Royal Downs saw him go in the building... he put on masks, he saw him on C tier changing clothes and OB told him he 'poked Floyd.'
"[Inmate Richard McCane] said his mask came down, it was loose on his face," said John Downs. "Eugene Wiggins saw two inmates attacking Floyd, one was OB; 'his mask was hanging down.' Michael Rodriguez said he saw him stabbing and punching Sgt. Floyd...later...he sees OB...with blood on his thermal, and OB tells him, 'he had to put work in.'"
OB's cellmate was Miller Price, who testified he saw OB with blood on his clothes and a dark curved knife that would drop blood onto his own sheet. Inmates Larry Sartin and Antonio Guzman testified seeing OB with "blood on his shirt."
A mixed DNA sample from the east wall of the mop closet also matched Floyd and Miller. Prosecutor Downs attempted to downplay some of the inconsistencies in testimony.
"Can anyone tell the exact same story over a period of months and years without...mixing something up...not making it up, trying to remember, remembering the major details," he said. "That’s what happens when people are involved in traumatic events--they remember the big things, details not so much."
Obadiah Miller's attorney Tony Figliola described his client as a "short-timer," serving a sentence for manslaughter that's up at the end of October of this year.
"He’s still a young man, still got a lot of time in front of him, a life, if you’re willing to give it to him. He would have to be a total freaking idiot to get involved in this whole situation," said Figliola.
Figliola picked each of the witnesses' testimony and prosecution's arguments apart one-by-one, starting with Miller's perception of Floyd.
"Floyd gives him the tier man job. Why? Why would he hurt Officer Floyd? Because he didn't like him? Bet you plenty of people don't like their boss, does that mean they're going to kill him...this is selective prosecution. One-hundred-twenty-six people are in that building, 126 suspects, the state selected only 18, and you've heard the names of people that have been implicated that aren't on that board."
He then targeted the DNA evidence--the only physical evidence picked up from the "contaminated crime scene" in a maximum security prison housing unit with no surveillance cameras.
"You heard the DNA expert, she would expect that OB’s DNA would be in that closet, he was a tier man. Ask yourself, did they test the DNA or any other tier man? That’s [police's] job. No. They’re going to blame it on OB. Why? Because everybody knows OB. Gotta blame it on somebody, let’s pick out the guy that we know. Let it be OB."
While the prosecution and inmate witnesses, with the exception of Royal Downs, have denied getting deals in exchange for testimony, both Figliola and Witherell said it's not out of the realm of possibilities down the line. Both asked the jury to consider inmates' various motivations.
"[They're] going for a commutation, you think for one minute that any attorney that’s not worth his salt is not going to put those statements in that petition, not going to get the transcripts from their testimony and put it in that petition, and have it go in front of the attorney general's office, where they’ll have to give a recommendation? No guarantee. But you think their chances are a heck of a lot better down the road if they give a story," Figliola asked.
"What am I going to get out of this? Another common theme: the state has said they haven’t promised…and I agree--the state didn’t put it in writing that’s fine," said Witherell. "It’s just unbelievable to think someone who is serving 30, 40, 50 years in prison would not want to get out or have a dream to get out, and although not promised, it’s common sense to 'keep my fingers crossed, a wing and a prayer, somewhere down the line I get a break.' It’s all they have to hope for, it's all they have to live for."
Figliola also posed this question to the jury in recounting testimony in an effort to instill doubt.
"Is a rat or a snitch or is a rat a snitch that doesn’t tell the truth? Is a rat a snitch trying to get himself out of trouble at the expense of innocent people?"
"Jarreau Ayers, don’t believe him, he only admitted to being involved. His testimony was that Staats punched Floyd. Who did the planning ahead of time? Conspiracy--you heard Dwayne Staats from that witnesses stand. Do any of you believe that that man could've been in control of anything? Nah. Royal Downs was in charge of that whole situation. Royal Downs could’ve let Floyd go. He didn’t, then he skipped town, he ran for dodge and went right to the police."
Closing arguments continue Tuesday with John Bramble's attorney Tom Pedersen making a final appeal to the jury following by a rebuttal by the prosecution. The jury is expected to be handed the case, following lengthy jury instructions, Tuesday afternoon.
Two more trials will be held in connection with the riot after a verdict is reached against these four defendants.
An expert with nearly a half-century of experience in prison security testified Thursday in the second trial resulting from the riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February of 2017 that left a correctional officer dead.
James Aiken, president of James Aiken & Associates, Inc., a prison consulting firm based in Asheville, North Carolina, was contacted by defense counsel for Abednego Baynes to evaluate cultural nuances in a prison environment. He's also previously done consulting work for the Delaware Department of Correction.
Aiken, who was paid for his expert testimony, said the scope of his work was to do an overview assessment--not analyze evidence and conduct an independent analysis.
He criticized prison officials' handling of inmates after the riot and said it could compromise the integrity of the overall investigation into the riot and who killed Lt. Steven Floyd.
"You have to reduce lowest level of interaction [between inmates]--or, should I say, having the opportunity to interact--you have to have sight and sound separation; you have to record every movement, comment, etc., between inmates. If that does occur, you’ve got to develop and implement strategies to ensure that inmates don’t gather information that’s, like, in the news media, or what a gang leader may say, or indicate or give a signal," he said. "Those things have to be mitigated in order to have the integrity of an investigation. What I have found is that when you compartmentalize inmate population after a critical event, you begin to get empirical evidence or consistent evidence concerning what happened and how did it happen."
Prior to the jury hearing testimony, Judge William Carpenter limited how far Aiken could go down this route.
"He cannot say that the failure to separate people, the failure to record their response to media, would absolutely lead to an investigation that is without merit or consequences that are not acceptable. That’s simply not true. It may be more difficult, it may be something that investigators should take care about, but it doesn’t lead to the ultimate truth you can’t get to," said the judge.
On the witness stand, Aiken added prior to an event, special equipment and technology should be used to keep tabs on inmates and their activities so prison officials can be prepared for any kind of emergency.
"Inmates communicate through the vent--that's fine, communicate all you want--as long as it's not going to impede an investigation, but to gain intelligence--what's on before an event takes place in order to gather that information," he said.
At the time of the riot, the JTVCC's C Building--a maximum security housing unit--had no cameras installed.
Aiken said he unaware of the size of Delaware's small correctional system, with only three state prisons for adult offenders, but testified that inmates should be transferred to different housing units--or even jurisdictions--after a critical event like a fatal riot. He admitted transferring 126 inmates, who were in C Building during the riot, would have "significant impact" but noted "you're looking for truth, not beds."
Carpenter also limited what Aiken could say here in pre-testimony without the jury present.
"Separating them is somewhat not as easy as you perceive it is. There is other ways to get to the bottom line. You may have concerns, it may lead you to have some concerns about how to conduct the investigation, but you just can’t say it means the investigation is without merit or didn’t lead to the appropriate conclusion," Carpenter ordered.
Throughout trial, inmates testifying have said they've been housed together and claim to have read newspaper accounts of what goes on at trial. Their interviews with investigators also weren't recorded. Defense attorneys have used that in their arguments.
"The more you have this cross-contamination of information among suspects as well as people witnessing things in a prison environment, it reduces the validity [of an investigation]. Because they can get together and create the reality that may not have anything to do with what actually happened," said Aiken on the witness stand. "We’re not talking about people who are there for going to church; these people have been involved with criminal actions…you have to be...somewhat paranoid to make sure this is the correct information--even though that information is like music to your ears--but that doesn’t save it as validated."
If that kind of separation doesn't happen, Aiken was questioned during cross-examination by Deputy Attorney General John Downs whether it could deter inmates from coming forward.
"I have not found, based on my experience…[a scenario] where inmates got together and tried to ensure that the purity of the investigation is taking place. Instead what the motivation is: what can I do, number one, to not get involved; number two--what’s the best benefit for me with or without certain information that I have; number three is does the administration have empirical evidence to refute or confirm what I’m telling them," he answered.
When pressed further whether inmates might come forward with the truth, he replied:
"No, based on my experience, people don’t come forward with 'the truth' after this takes place. I’ve only been in this business 47 years," he said.
"You’re saying in your 45 years of experience you don’t have examples of people who came forward with the truth?" asked Downs.
"What I’m saying is when inmates have an importunity to live in the same living area interacting with each other doesn’t necessarily--in my experience--produce truthful accurate information. That’s not a driving force," said Aiken.
An inmate could be reluctant to come forward to avoid being labeled a "rat" or a "snitch"--a common theme among inmates who testified, but refused to name those who may have been involved in attacks on correctional officers, Aiken said.
He was also asked whether an inmate might be motivated to come forward because they felt victimized after the riot.
"Certainly sir, you have to consider all of the variables that are involved," he said before being cut off by Downs.
In addition to the separation, which should have been prearranged as part of strategic emergency planning, Aiken said inmates should be videotaped at all times.
The expert said he'd be concerned with the validity of an investigation if that kind of separation did not happen.
"With inmate population, if you have to defend an inmate population to establish what did or did not happen, you have to take every available resource to separate that population so they cannot be communicating with each other," Aiken said. "I would have concerns from the standpoint of making an assessment of understanding what actually did or did not happen. You have to be objective, and you have to understand that the more contamination the higher the probability of misinformation and conjecture could come in. But I don’t make those calls."
An inmate who was credited for keeping a prison counselor safe during the violent revolt at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna testified that none of the four defendants--John Bramble, Obadiah Miller, Abednego Baynes, and Kevin Berry--had anything to do with the revolt that left a correctional officer dead.
"It's kind of frustrating actually. Ya’ll got the wrong people on trial," said Terek Downing.
Downing, a defense witness, and his cell mate Michael Carello, who's testifying for the state along with inmate Donald Parkell, claimed to have kept Patricia May safe, locked inside a cell during the rebellion that spanned two days over February 1 and 2 of 2017.
He described the takeover as "calm" in the middle but "weird and creepy" at night. He said he never saw officers Joshua Wilkinson and Winslow Smith being assaulted, nor did he see Bramble near the correctional officers.
Thursday, February 7, 2019, Downing took the witness stand in the second Vaughn prison riot trial and claimed he just saw Bramble standing there with no blood or injuries.
"[He was] just curious, every one was kind of like jittery," said Downing. "He was not a threat. Every time I saw him, there was a lack of water and the thing that sticks out is he made a damn, he took clothing and a bunch of stuff--water was rushing in."
He added Bramble helped take May to the bathroom.
When officers re-took the building, he claimed May yelled: "Don't hurt them, don't hurt them."
Downing described Carello as "his brother," but said he disagreed with his decision to testify for the state, and immediately after he learned of it, distanced himself from his former cellie.
"Prison life is hard enough as it is, but with that attached to your name being how close we was, I told him prior, 'if you decide to do anything tell me in advance...you go your way, I love your mom, I love you, but I'm just not a part of that.'"
He, too, admitted, he didn't like testifying on the witness stand--even for the defense.
"Kevvy Kev [Kevin Berry] had nothing to do with this, and I've try to tell people a long time ago. I didn't even know Bramble's situation, I don't understand it--none of it," he said.
On cross examination, Downing was defiant, refusing to answer the prosecutor's questions. At one point, he called Brian Robertson's question's "dumb," and the judge intervened.
"Whether you think they’re stupid or not you have to answer. You need to let him finish the question then you can answer him, you can’t ask him questions," said Superior Court Judge William Carpenter.
Downing refused to answer questions about identities of inmates who were involved in various aspects of the riot, badgering prosecutors with answers like "You already know" or "Yeah I know, and I'm not saying."
He also testified that he believes those who agree to testify for the prosecution are, in fact, getting something in return.
"You go put a motion in that normally gets denied, it will get denied. They come in here and say, 'Did anybody get anything or did you promise anything?' They say 'No.' Later on they're going to file a motion, mysteriously this motion now gets accepted. That's how it goes, so they can come in here with deniability and say, 'No he’s not getting nothing.' They’re going to get something."
Deric Forney, who was the only inmate in the first trial acquitted of all counts, was planning to testify Thursday, but he wasn't called due to credibility issues and concerns he could perjure himself. Attorneys said he gave a statement to Obadiah Miller's investigator that was inconsistent with his trial. Forney made claims to the court that his documentation had been taken from his cell while he was at the courthouse, but the state claims it procured video that revealed Forney slid documents out from under his own door and that no one entered his cell during the entire time period he was in court that day.
Bramble Testifies in His Own Defense
John Bramble, 29, of Seaford, was the final inmate to take the stand in his own defense Thursday.
Bramble testified that he had taken part in peaceful protests at JTVCC in the past, because conditions in C building weren't great, but knew nothing about the riot.
"It's jail. No part of jail is good, but in C building, it was just...they had certain correctional officers that worked C Building that were just very disrespectful," said Bramble.
But Bramble said that unhappiness never led him to take part in the revolt, assault any officers, and expressed frustration that some took the stand to testify about his involvement while others said he was not involved.
He said that day he observed inmates taking Officer Winslow Smith, or "Smitty", up to his cell, but he couldn't identify them.
"They were masked up head to toe with gloves on," he said.
Bramble's attorney Tom Pedersen asked on direct examination whether he ever told Carello that he "gut" or "cut Floyd like a whale?'"
"No," Bramble replied.
"Did you ever say you 'felt like the KKK when you cut Floyd like a whale?'"
"That doesn’t even make sense, my little brother and sister are half-black, my step-mom’s half-black...I was ashamed when he said that, like it was offensive, and it’s not cool at all," he said. "I didn’t participate in anything I’m indicted for."
The cross-examination of Bramble was expected to begin Friday morning with closing arguments in the case scheduled for Monday.
Nine inmates charged with the murder of a correctional officer during a violent two-day prison riot in 2017 have now filed a federal lawsuit, claiming they, too, were abused in the riot's aftermath.
Dwayne Staats, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attack and the sole inmate convicted of the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd during the first set of trials against those involved, filed the handwritten lawsuit in U.S. District Court on January 17, 2019, along with Jarreau "Ruck" Ayers, Roman "Rome" Shankaras, Lawrence "Smoke" Michaels, Kevin Berry, Obadiah "OB" Miller, John Bramble, Abednego Baynes, and Abdul-Haqq El-Quadeer aka Louis Sierra.
All nine claim they were "physically, mentally, and emotionally" abused and mistreated for decades at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps, former Warden David Pierce, and prison medical provider company Connections are among the defendants named in the lawsuit.
"The higher ranking officers and administration at JTVCC knew about the abuses and torment, permeating throughout the environment," the lawsuit said. "They chose to either support and encourage these behaviors or turn a blind eye to them."
They said conditions prior the riot included inconsistent policies and procedures, an adversarial culture, poor medical and mental health treatment, a lack of supervision and response to violence, limited access to rehabilitation programs, and a dysfunctional grievance system all led to the February 1 and 2, 2017 riot that killed Lt. Steven Floyd.
After the riot, the inmates alleged conditions grew worse. They claimed they were punched, kicked, pepper-sprayed, and struck by batons by Delaware and Maryland state troopers, correctional officers, and CERT teams as officials re-took the prison.
All plaintiffs claim they complied with officers' demands to lay on the ground with their hands behind their back. They said their hands were zip tied and "pulled as tight as possible causing unnecessary pain and nerve damage."
Staats claimed his forehead and mouth were "busted open" from being rammed into a pile of metal locker boxes as he was extracted from the building.
Ayers, who was not convicted of murder, but was found guilty of assault, kidnapping, and riot, claimed he already had limited mobility and was awaiting knee surgery when officers stomped on his face and back while another officer walked across his legs, causing further damage to his knee.
Shankaras, who was kicked out of the first group of inmates being tried so as not to jeopardize the case, claimed he received multiple bruises to his forehead, face, neck and chest.
"He was sprayed with mace all over his face, got stomped on his lower back, his mouth was bleeding. An unknown object got shoved near his rectum, and one of his teeth got chipped," the complaint said.
Michaels, who has yet to go to trial, claimed he suffered a bloody nose and two black eyes as well as a hickey on his forehead.
"While being choked by an officer, he was forced to open his mouth to get mace spayed directly down his throat," the complaint alleged.
Remaining plaintiffs, Miller, Berry, Bramble and Abduil-Haqq said their heads were banged against the walls by officers, and they were kicked, punched, and sprayed with mace, causing them to suffer severe headaches, bruising, and even concussions.
All inmates, except Baynes, claim they were forced to lie in pools of their own blood on freezing cement for hours.
They further claimed medical attention was either "non-existent" or "inadequate" for injuries they suffered at the hands of police and correctional officers.
"These 'check-ups' last approximately 30-40 seconds. That was just enough time to clean up the dried blood off our faces before we were hearded [sic] to the gym. This was medical negligence in its purest form," they allege.
In the days that followed, inmates claim sick calls were declined for three weeks
They add their personal property, including TVs, radios, clothes, food, fans, sneakers, letters and photos from loved ones--that can't be replaced--and other commissary items, were destroyed or disposed, and their mail was tampered with after the riot.
Their civil rights lawsuit alleges the unsafe prison conditions at JTVCC constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the brutal beatings while restrained was done "maliciously and sadistically" and constituted assault and battery under state law.
It mirrors a similar federal lawsuit filed by inmates, who were not charged in the riot. Inmates charged with the murder of Floyd were not permitted to be a part of their class-action lawsuit due to a conflict of interest.
The nine plaintiffs in the newly-filed lawsuit are seeking $300,000 in compensatory damages as well as $100,000 in punitive damages from most defendants.
The Delaware DOC and its medical provider Connections have consistently had no comment on pending litigation.
The second criminal trial in the prison riot, wherein Bramble, Baynes, Berry, and Miller are on trial for the murder of Floyd, is underway in New Castle County Superior Court.
The state's star witness took the stand in the second Vaughn prison riot trial Friday and testified two of the men on trial likely took part in the assaults on correctional officers.
Inmate Royal "Diamond" Downs, who was charged in the prison riot, said he saw inmates Obadiah "OB" Miller and John Bramble with weapons.
"OB had what looked like a long sharpened screw," said Downs.
Miller shook his head as Downs positively identified him in the courtroom on January 18, 2019.
Downs also testified he saw Bramble enter the building in a mask.
"I saw him with a weapon. It was a shank. It was more like, I can’t remember, it was like an ice pick or something," said Downs. "I saw him with a shank...it was when he was going on the tier...it was in between initial assault and second assault, it was early on."
That differed from Downs' testimony in the first trial, wherein he claimed Bramble put a mask on and went inside the building.
"I don't know if he had a knife or not, but he put the mask on...I can't recall if he was involved in the attacks or not," he said in the first trial.
On the stand Friday, Downs admitted he never witnessed any of the attacks on Officers Justin Wilkinson, Winslow Smith, or Lt. Steven Floyd, who died in the February 1 and 2, 2017, riot.
However, in the first trial on cross-examination by inmate Dwayne Staats, who was the self-proclaimed mastermind of the riot, Downs said:
"I witnessed Floyd [being] attacked twice; I don't know when Floyd was murdered."
He also claimed to have witnessed Floyd being dragged and strangled in the first trial--details that didn't come up in the second trial.
Friday, Downs changed his story and said he didn't see any attacks.
"Someone hollered out the window and said they was killing [Floyd]...I got a problem remembering names, but I know who it was. I can't remember his name," said Downs. "No one directly told me they stabbed Floyd...but OB told me he poked him and had lots of blood on his clothes."
That also differed from testimony in the first trial, wherein Downs said he saw OB with bloody clothes and a bloody shank, but said:
"[OB] actually didn't tell me anything," about his involvement, Downs said.
Downs said he later saw Floyd sitting upright in the mop closet, covered in blood. Floyd "wasn't moving or saying anything," Downs recalled. When asked whether Floyd was unconscious, Downs replied: "I don't know."
On cross examination, Bramble's attorney Tom Pedersen attacked Downs' credibility, accusing him of not testifying truthfully. He pointed to numerous statements wherein Downs named several inmates going into the building with masks. None of the inmates named were Bramble, he claimed, until the state showed him Bramble's photo in trial one. Pedersen also noted Downs never spoke of Bramble having a weapon until trial--something he made reference to in both trials.
Downs said, both on direct and cross-examination, that he was uncertain why Baynes and Berry were on trial.
Baynes and Berry were "just there like everybody else" in what Downs described a "chaotic situation."
"[Baynes] didn't to my knowledge do anything," said Downs.
As for Berry:
"He ain't do nothin'," said Downs.
In cross examination, attorneys for Baynes and Berry clarified their clients weren't involved in the planning of the riot, any attacks once the riot got underway, or negotiations on walkie talkies, which Downs testified they were not.
Downs, who was convicted of first-degree murder in Maryland, is serving a life sentence. He pleaded guilty to a count of riot in a secret deals months before trial.
His plea deal, which was unveiled for the first time publicly by prosecutors, called for him to "testify truthfully consistent with statements given to authorities and prosecutors on various dates. It also ordered he have no contact with any of his co-defendants. Downs is being housed in a correctional facility in Pennsylvania.
In exchange for his testimony, Downs could face no additional jail time. Sentencing guidelines recommend between 0 months and 7 months be added to his sentence; the maximum penalty is three years. No sentencing date has been set for Downs, who will likely be called to testify in the remaining two trials.
On the stand Friday, Downs said he regretted taking the deal from prosecutors.
"If I had to do I again, I wouldn’t," said Downs. "I made my choice, and this is where I’m at."
Downs also called testifying the "hardest thing he's ever had to do," and said he regrets agreeing to do so, to which Bramble's attorney Pedersen responded:
"This is the hardest thing you've ever done? You're convicted of murder right?"
Miller's attorney, Tony Figliola, hasn't gotten the opportunity to cross-examine Downs yet--that will happen when trial resumes Tuesday afternoon following an unexpected morning delay.
The second trial resulting from a violent prison takeover that left a correctional officer dead at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna in 2017 got underway Monday.
In the courtroom on January 14, 2019, deputy attorney general Nichole Warner asserted that the call for first yard--or recreational time for inmates--on February 1, 2017, would be the last "normal" thing that happened that day.
"You're going to hear it was chaotic, it was crazy….inmates armed with shanks and mop wringers...swung at officers…to subdue them," she said.
Subsequent emergency radio calls indicated inmates had effectively taken over the C Building, an event the state claims had been intricately planned.
In the hours that followed, prosecutors said Sgt. Steven Floyd was brutally murdered and Officers Joshua Wilkinson and Winslow Smith were badly beaten and tortured; a counselor Patricia May, who was kidnapped, but protected by inmates, was not harmed.
This time around, four inmates are on trial: John "Johnny" Bramble, Obadiah "OB" Miller, Abednego Baynes, and Kevin Berry, who goes by the prison nicknames "Kevvy Kev" or "Shorty."
In opening statements, Warner alleged Baynes participated in assaults on Floyd, Wilkinson, and Smith.
"[He] was walking Wilkinson around…[Wilkinson] was in that building a lot longer than Smith, at times he was forced to get on the radio, he was being walked around the tier, forced to shout out a window," said Warner.
Warner said the jury will hear testimony that inmates saw Berry participate in attacks on Floyd and Wilkinson, with a witness seeing blood on this clothes.
Regarding Bramble, Warner said the jury will hear he was "masked up" and observed assaulting Floyd and Wilkinson with visible blood on this clothes and shoes.
Miller, whose name came up in testimony among inmates most frequently during the first trial, was allegedly unmasked during the attacks.
"Obadiah Miller [was] seen assaulting Floyd, seen with a shank in his hand, seen with bloody clothing, his DNA was found inside that mop closet," said Warner.
But as defense attorneys hit on in each of their respective opening statements--the state's case rests solely on the testimony of other inmates. There was no video surveillance of the events inside Building C and very little conclusive DNA evidence.
Andy Witherell, who's representing Berry, asked the jury to pay close attention to what he called the "cast of characters" that will take the stand.
"Are they fidgeting?" he asked. "It’s going to come down to credibility of the witnesses who take that stand, and each one of you I’m going to ask, please, please listen and make a judgment with respect to any biases, concerns, trickery, or whatever they expect to get out of this trial," said Witherell.
Attorney Tom Pedersen, who's representing Bramble, took that one step further, saying the prosecution's case rests on the "testimony of snakes" -- in a declaration that drew an objection, a rarity in opening statements.
"You’re going to hear a dizzying array of contradiction--contradictions between each individual witness and what they have said on the different times they were interviewed, and contradictions between what one witness for the state says as opposed to the other witness," said Pedersen.
"Did these witnesses see the same events? Are you to rely on those witnesses, those stories, and those contradictions to return a verdict of guilty? I submit to you there’s no way humanly possible you will be able to do that," he said.
Pedersen also brought up the credibility issue and asked the jury to use common sense.
"The kind of common sense that says an inmate doesn’t come to court to testify unless he wants something in return. It’s the kind of common sense folks that tells you that when someone says different things over the course of different interviews--that person’s not to be trusted. It’s the kind of common sense that if you’re lost and you ask 10 different people for directions home, and they tell you 10 different ways to get home, you’re still lost," said Pedersen. "When you see a poisonous snake on the ground you don’t pick him up and put him in the pot."
Several attorneys for inmates on trial also asked the prosecution to look beyond the stigma of incarceration and insist on the presumption of innocence in a case that brings about two challenges.
"First, can we really give a presumption of innocence to someone who’s already in jail? We’re all human, we know what the instructions tell us, but there’s a human side to us that says, 'Well someone’s already in jail they must be bad people; they must’ve done something wrong'...as we sit here right now, Mr. Bramble is as innocent of these charges as both you and I," Pedersen said.
"Second challenge—when you look at this case overall, is it easier to sometimes say, 'Hey, if we got this wrong, if we’re relying on people who we otherwise wouldn’t rely it is it OK because the people we’re making mistakes about are already in jail?' Are they less worthy of us doing this the right way? Are they less worthy of us relying on good, sound evidence because they’re inmates? Would you be satisfied with the quality of prosecution that you’re going to hear if Mr. Bramble was the valedictorian of the charter school? Because those two people, the valedictorian at the charter school and Mr. Bramble deserve the same treatment," said Pedersen.
Attorney Cleon Cauley, who's representing Baynes, said his client did not take part in any planning of the incident or the attacks.
"Simply being present isn't enough," said Cauley. "When you look at the evidence, you’ll see that no DNA comes back to my client, no fingerprints come back to my client, the state’s star witness will tell you that my client was not involved."
Tony Figlioa, who represents Miller, claimed his client did not participate in the riot because he didn't want to jeopardize his impending release in October of 2019 after what would be the conclusion of a 10-year sentence for manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
"He was not a long-timer, he was not one of the guys that had nothing to lose by causing a prison uprising. He was a friend of some of the organizers, he got dragged into this by other inmates because of his association with those individuals," said Figliola.
Cauley, representing Baynes, called it a "snap judgement" on the part of the state that led to his client being charged. Figliola called it "selective prosecution."
"There’s 126 inmates in the C building--only 18 are charged. The state talks about direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. What’s the direct evidence? Testimony from the individuals that weren’t charged. That’s their 'direct' evidence. Some of them come forward within a day; some say, 'I want a lawyer;' some of ‘em go two or three times until they get a lawyer—they’re looking for a deal," Figliola claimed.
Months before the first trial, the state's star witness, Royal "Diamond" Downs, who was not charged with murder in the JTVCC riot, secretly pleaded guilty to riot in exchange for his testimony, which implicates other inmates. He's serving a life sentence for murder in Maryland.
Figliola also pointed out a revelation that came to light in the first trial--all of the inmates testifying in this case have been housed together.
"Some of them go back, and they talk to the other inmates, and a plan is formulated," claimed Figliola.
Attorney Pedersen also hammered on the way in which inmates were housed in this case.
"Witnesses testifying have been housed together with the opportunity to talk, confer, work together among themselves, rather than keep them separate—that will be a theme...witnesses have had an opportunity to collaborate and get together," said Pedersen.
During the first trial, two inmates connected to the case died. One who could've been called to testify for the prosecution, Luis Cabrera, 49, of Bear, was found dead at 4:54 a.m. Thursday, November 8, 2018, according to the Delaware Department of Correction. Dover attorney Steve Hampton, who's leading a class-action lawsuit that alleges inmate abuse, said Cabrebra, a convicted murderer, died from a ruptured, perforated ulcer, that resulted from a lack of medical care.
A second inmate, Kelly Gibbs, who was due to face trial for the murder of Floyd, committed suicide on Thanksgiving Day.
Trial is expected to last up to five weeks, a schedule similar to the first trial.
An inmate who was cleared by jury of any wrongdoing in the fatal Vaughn prison riot is joining a class-action lawsuit alleging abuse in Delaware's prisons.
Deric Forney, who was among the first three inmates tried in the case--and the only one to be acquitted of all charges--has contacted Dover attorney Steve Hampton, who's leading the charge.
The lawsuit includes more than 100 inmates, who claimed they were beaten and tortured in the wake of the riot--and well before it--in what the complaint called "systematic torture." Inmates also alleged that they've been denied medical care.
WDEL received dozens of letters, detailing what they alleged to be abuse following the Feb. 1-2, 2016 riot, telling their story to both WDEL and Hampton. Hampton, along with lawyers Zachary A. George and James J. Woods Jr., filed the class-action lawsuit amid the first Vaughn trial, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief from future recurrences" of abuse.
The state, the Delaware Department of Correction, and the prison's medical provider, Connections, have all repeatedly denied comment, citing pending litigation.
Forney, 29, who's serving an 11-year prison sentence on gun charges, is scheduled to be released from prison in 2023.
The second trial in the Vaughn prison riot is scheduled to begin Monday, January 14, 2019.
Jury selection will get underway Monday morning at the New Castle County courthouse as a second set of inmates charged in a fatal riot at the Vaughn prison in Smyrna prepares to head to trial.
This time around, inmates Obadiah Miller, John Bramble, Kevin Berry, and Abednego Baynes will be in court. Miller is currently serving 10 years for manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Bramble is in the midst of a 40-year sentence for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, second-degree assault, possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, possession of ammunition by a person prohibited, and home invasion. Berry is currently serving 14 years for three counts of first-degree robbery and other charges. Baynes is in prison on a second-degree murder charge, sentenced to 18 years behind bars.
Unlike the last trial, all four inmates are represented by attorneys. Obadiah Miller is being represented by Tony Figliola of Figliola & Facciolo in Brandywine Hundred; John Bramble is being represented by Tom Pedersen, a criminal defense attorney based in Georgetown; Kevin Berry is being represented by Andy Witherell, a Wilmington-based criminal defense attorney while Abednego Baynes is being represented by Cleon Cauley of The Cauley Firm in Wilmington.
Each face three counts of murder in the death of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd who was killed in the Feb. 1-2, 2017, riot, as well assault, kidnapping, and conspiracy charges. They're among 16 inmates charged in connection with the violent attack.
In the first trial, not one inmate was convicted of intentional murder of Floyd, but self-proclaimed mastermind Dwayne Staats, who was serving a life sentence, was convicted of felony murder and murder of a law enforcement officer. Inmate Jarreau Ayers, who was also serving life in prison, was convicted of kidnapping, assault, and conspiracy. Deric Forney was cleared on all counts.
Obadiah Miller, who goes by the nickname "OB" behind bars, consistently came up in the first trial as one of the men who viciously stabbed Floyd. Inmates who brought up his name testified that "OB" was the only one not wearing a mask. One inmate who took the stand called him "a butcher."
Bramble's name also came up when inmates testified he brutally beat Officer Joshua Wilkinson, who suffered major injuries in the uprising. It's unclear whether Bramble had a weapon--one inmate testified he used a mop wringer in the attack while another testified that he did not see any weapons.
Jury selection is expected to take all week with trial slated to begin on Monday, January 14, 2018.
The abuse at the hands of correctional officers which inmates said spurred a fatal riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional riot last year is continuing, according to an attorney representing prisoners in a class-action lawsuit.
"It's as if they've learned nothing," said Steve Hampton.
Hampton told WDEL he's concerned because letters continue to pour into his Dover office, revealing similar accounts of mistreatment happening behind bars in various buildings. The accounts are eerily similar even among men who haven't seen each other in years, Hampton said.
"Most recently, I've been getting particular complaints from inmates who were in C-19, and who might be witnesses in the criminal trial, about particularly bad treatment, including not getting adequate food, not being allowed to have their own personal property, not having any toiletries, and basically not getting anything because the correctional officers are refusing to get anything for them or to assist them in any way."
He alleged correctional officers--still reeling from the death of one of their own, Lt. Steven Floyd--have been verbally taunting the inmates as well.
"Telling them 'Look, you should be the one on trial; you're the one responsible; criminal charges ought to be filed against you,' which is really inappropriate...and it does not seem that anyone in the management is willing to step up and do anything about it."
He added the treatment isn't good for correctional officers.
"It's not going to end well, eventually, for some correctional officer down the way, because there's always a lot more inmates than there are correctional officers, and if they decide at some point there's going to be a problem, there's going to be a problem, and I don't want that to happen for anybody."
Since the first in a series of Vaughn trials began, two inmates connected to the trial died while in Department of Correction custody. WDEL was first to report the death of potential Vaughn witness, convicted murderer Luis Cabrera, who, at 49, died on November 8, 2018.
"He died of a ruptured, basically a perforated ulcer...which would allow intestinal contents to spill into the abdominal cavity, cause peritonitis, ultimately sepsis, and death, which is appears to what have happened."
Hampton added Cabrera was sick over a period of time and wasn't given the proper medical care, including his prescribed medication.
"Eventually he fell over on the floor in one of the tiers, and including the fact that they delayed even helping him after he fell, rather than taking him to the hospital, they just took him to their own infirmary. He stayed there until he died," said Hampton. "This was something that was really, really preventable--he was not an old man."
Kelly Gibbs, 29, also died while in DOC custody on Thanksgiving Day after having pleaded guilty to charges of riot, conspiracy, and kidnapping in connection with the riot. He had originally been scheduled to go to trial on murder charges. The Delaware DOC did not elaborate on cause of death, but said foul play wasn't suspected.
"The privacy issue is most often than not a way to protect themselves; I don't believe they're terrible concerned about the privacy of the inmates--it's sort of a joke--they treat them like dirt, allow 'em to die, and then say they're concerned about their privacy; I don't get that--that's just an excuse to not acknowledge what they've done," said Hampton.
Delaware Department of Correction spokeswoman Jayme Gravell had no comment.
The Dover attorney said Gibbs faced at least three increased risks of suicide, according to DOC's own procedures.
"Gibbs, from all accounts that we've gotten, hung himself. He had just been to court, taken a plea, and court appearances and that kind of thing are one of the risk factors, increased risk factors for suicide. And he was on a tier where a lot of the inmates were very hostile towards him because they perceived that he might be working for the prosecution, and then almost certainly, he was in a cell by himself--generally, inmates with cellmates don't hang themselves," said Hampton. "I'm relatively certain they did nothing about that to address that increased risk. So, yeah, he committed suicide because of his own initiative--however, what they allowed to continue greatly accelerated that desire, and it's something that could've been prevented."
A third inmate also made what DOC spokeswoman Gravell called "suicidal gestures" last week while behind bars at Howard Young, but no one was injured. That inmate, Gravell told WDEL, was not tied to the Vaughn case.
The ongoing abuse and inmates' deaths will become apart of Hampton's class-action lawsuit which was filed during the first of the Vaughn trials.
"The medical care has been really, really, really bad the last couple years; Connections is just doing a really bad job of it, so that's not new," said Hampton. "But I think that the inmate who are from C-19 get even less deference when it comes to medical care...although I'm getting plenty of complaints about inmates not getting treated for serious illness, serious conditions, potentially life-threatening conditions. So that's not just revenge--that's also just really, really poor medical care."
Connections, which cares for inmates, had no comment on the pending lawsuit.
Hampton also has an issue with the way inmates, who are potential witnesses in this case, are allegedly being held together at Howard R. Young. Correctional Center.
"It's crazy; I don't have any answer for why they've done that because it puts the inmates at great risk from one another if somebody perceives that someone else is going to testify for the prosecution. It could be something that results in violence--inmate against inmate--certainly puts a lot of fear into them," he said. "And I don't know how that particularly helps the criminal case. It seems to me, the last thing that you would do if you really care about the criminal case because now you have inmates who if they're called to testify are terrified to testify for fear of what will happen to them when they come back on the tier....it's just crazy that they're lumping them altogether."
The goal of Hampton's lawsuit has been to effect change in the way of more humane treatment for inmates. But it will take political will.
"It never seems that we've had any politicians that step up and insist that it be done right; we've had, unfortunately, sort of a closed-shop...the same guys are revolving around between different positions in government and don't want to rock the boat because they know if they rock the boat, they won't get the promotion they won't get the judgeship, they won't get to be head of homeland security...so nobody's been willing, really, to come forward and rock the boat and say, 'This stuff isn't right, and we've got to fix it.'"
An inmate, who was charged with the murder of a correctional officer in a violent prison riot last year, died while behind bars.
Kelly Gibbs, 30, of Wilmington died at the Howard R. Young Correctional Center on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2018, at 2:45 a.m., according to the Delaware Department of Correction.
Gibbs' body has been turned over to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science for an autopsy. The Delaware DOC said foul play is not suspected.
Gibbs was one of 16 inmates charged with the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd, who was slated to head to trial. The first of several trials ended last week.
According to Delaware DOC, Gibbs pleaded guilty earlier this week to charges of riot, kidnapping, and conspiracy in connection with the February 2017 revolt, but had yet to be sentenced.
He was 10 years into a nearly 25-year prison sentence for second-degree murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, second-degree assault, and promoting prison contraband. He was imprisoned in 2008.
Delaware State Police are investigating Gibbs' death.
He's the second inmate involved in the trial to die while in state custody. Two weeks ago, WDEL broke the story that potential witness Luis Cabrera, 49, of Bear, died on November 8, 2018, according to the Delaware DOC. Prison officials also said in that case that foul play wasn't suspected.
Cabrera who was not among the inmates charged with Floyd's murder was serving three life sentences plus 44 years for a triple-murder.
The president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware union said he's dissatisfied with Tuesday's verdicts in the first trial of inmates charged in connection with last year's James T. Vaughn Correctional Center deadly prison riot.
Geoff Klopp called it a difficult day, when one of their brothers, Lt. Steven Floyd, was murdered, and no one's been fully held accountable for that crime.
"As we move forward, there's a lot of trial yet to come, so we're not jumping up and down happy today at all," he said. "We would have liked if things turned out a little bit differently...we look forward to the prosecutor's office working really hard in these upcoming trials and for justice to be served and for the people who brutally murdered Steven Floyd to be held accountable."
Defendants Jarreau Ayers, Dwayne Staats, and Deric Forney faced three counts of murder tied to Floyd's death, including intentional murder, felony murder, and murder of a law enforcement officer. None were convicted of intentional murder.
Only Staats--the self-proclaimed mastermind of the revolt--was convicted of felony murder and murder of a law enforcement officer. Ayers was cleared of any murder counts and Deric Forney was acquitted on all counts of murder, riot, assault, kidnapping, and conspiracy.
"It's difficult for me to hear people say that they never intended for Steven Floyd to die, and perhaps there's a lot of truth to that, but the fact of the matter is, is that he did die, he died a brutal, horrible death, and whoever did that needs to be held accountable, and if these three didn't do it, then the ones that did I hope are coming to trial soon, and I hope that they are held accountable, if they're the ones that did."
Staats and Ayers were ordered held without bail, but are already facing life sentences. Forney must serve out the remainder of his 10-year sentence after pleading guilty to aggravated possession of drugs in 2013.
Klopp has said the trials have been a tense time for correctional officers.
"It's hard every day, and it's just difficult for people to go to work with this stuff hanging over our heads and a lot of the officers having to deal with it, deal with the defendants every day, and at the end of the day, we want whoever murdered Steven Floyd held accountable. Now if we get through these next trials and tings continue like this last one, it won't be a good situation," he said. "Until we get to the conclusion of this horrific event--and these trials that will continue to bring up very painful memories and painful mistakes, we're not going to have closure."
Sixteen inmates have been charged with murder in the February 2017 riot with trials expected to continue well into the new year.
When asked whether closure was possible without an intentional murder conviction no one is convicted of intentional murder, Klopp wasn't ready to face that potential reality yet.
"Let's pray to God that that's not the case," he said. "The state's prosecutor's office is going to do their hardest to prosecute this very difficult case. Let's be clear...these people knew what they were doing, they hid their faces, and it's going to be difficult."
Just one inmate was found guilty of murder in the death of Lt. Steven Floyd last year in the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center riot following a month-long trial.
Three inmates--Deric Forney, Jarreau Ayers, and Dwayne Staats--faced murder charges for Floyd's death in what was the first of several trials to ensue in the coming months. A total of 16 inmates were charged with Floyd's murder.
Reporters were told to respond to the courthouse around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, November 20, 2018, where a verdict was set to be announced. Court was in session by 4:30 p.m. and the jury filed into the room shortly thereafter. The results for specific charges were:
Staats, who was the self-proclaimed mastermind of the riot:
Riot – guilty
Murder 1st degree intentional – not guilty
Murder in 1st degree felony murder – guilty
Murder in 1st degree law enforcement officer – guilty
Assault 1st degree on Wilkinson – guilty
Assault 1st on degree on Smith – guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree Floyd – guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree Wilkinson – guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree Smith – guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree May – guilty
Conspiracy 2nd degree – guilty
Staats co-counsel Peter Vieth said his client may consider an appeal.
"My client's always maintained that he never intended for Sgt. Floyd to die, and I think the jury's decision reflects that."
Riot – guilty
Murder in 1st degree intentional – not guilty
Murder in 1st degree felony murder – not guilty
Murder in 1st degree law enforcement officer – not guilty
Assault 1st degree on Wilkinson – guilty
Assault 1st on degree on Smith – guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree Floyd – guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree Wilkinson – guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree Smith – guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree May – guilty
Conspiracy 2nd degree – guilty
Ayers, through his co-counsel Pat Collins, thanked the jury for their service, but had no further comment.
Riot – not guilty
Murder in 1st degree intentional – not guilty
Murder in 1st degree felony murder – not guilty
Murder in 1st degree law enforcement officer – not guilty
Assault 1st degree on Wilkinson –not guilty
Assault 1st on degree on Smith – not guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree Floyd – not guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree Wilkinson – not guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree Smith –not guilty
Kidnapping 1st degree May – not guilty
Conspiracy 2nd degree – not guilty
Forney's attorney Benjamin Gifford said the verdict reflects the lack of evidence against his client.
"If the jury believed the two witnesses who had some credibility issues--in my opinion--it was kind of an all or nothing verdict, so I think it was the right result here," said Gifford. "He's always maintained his innocence to me, and we're glad that the jury saw the same; there just wasn't enough evidence."
Lead prosecutor John Downs appeared disappointed with the verdict.
"We have no comment, other than that the jury worked very hard--we thank them for their effort--and we will be preparing for the next cases," he said.
Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps called the verdicts a step forward "in the healing process," noting the trials have been difficult.
"When we started this process, it took us right back to the day that the event happened, and there's a lot of emotions and a lot of different things going on in the DOC family, and as I said, with this decision, it will help us move toward closure."
But when asked whether the verdict was justice for Floyd, he paused.
"I don't know how to answer that right now," he said. "I believe the jury came to a conclusion, we respect their decision, and I think justice is served overall. It doesn't matter if I'm satisfied or not; we respect the jury's decision, and it is what it is."
Phelps later released a written statement:
"The DOC family will never be the same, but the news today is a long-awaited step toward healing and closure. We extend our most sincere gratitude to the members of the jury who put their lives and families on hold to thoughtfully listen to and evaluate the evidence presented to them. We are grateful for the efforts of the Delaware State Police and the Department of Justice who successfully and tirelessly pursued justice on behalf of our fallen officer. The DOC is and always will be: One Family, One Team."
The fate of three men charged with the murder of a correctional officer in a violent prison overthrow last year now rests with the jury.
Closing arguments were made Thursday, November 15, 2018, signaling the end of the month-long trial in which inmates Deric Forney, Jarreau Ayers, and Dwayne Staats face murder charges in the killing of Lt. Steven Floyd.
Criminal defense attorney Ben Gifford likened the many inconsistencies among the inmate witnesses who took the stand to the film Forrest Gump--a manipulation of historical footage for the entertainment of the "audience."
"They're taking things that actually happened and plucking themselves in there just like Forrest Gump."
Lead prosecutor John Downs downplayed the inconsistencies.
"When two people see things, one might focus here and one might focus there, and this person sees what’s here, sees what’s there, watching what looks to be the same thing, different versions," he said. "Anytime something is scary...or disturbing: they see what they see and they know what they know and sometimes the little details lose their way.
Gifford, representing Deric Forney, attacked the state for its lack of evidence in the case, despite this being the largest forensic case in state history.
"Floyd didn’t deserve what happened to him but he didn’t deserve this investigation either. All we have are witness statements? There are gloves with blood on them that were never sent for DNA testing. There is blood all over Officers [Joshua] Wilkinson and [Winslow] Smith’s clothing, and they’re alleged to have been beaten by people in this prison, people who police believe maybe cut themselves in the attacks."
Instead, Gifford pointed out Detective David Weaver--lead investigator in the case--testified during trial that, in order to be indicted, a defendant was identified by just two of 126 inmates in Building C.
"I told you in the beginning of this trial that 'beyond a reasonable doubt' wasn’t defined by a number...but...I’d guess it would be higher than 1.65 percent of the evidence...and we are asked to ignore the same number of witnesses who say definitively: 'No, Deric Forney was not involved.'"
Downs reminded the jury, from the beginning, prosecutors had said this case would be dependent upon witness testimony.
"All the [evidence] that was found had very little had significance because it was the 'home' to everybody," he said. "It would have been the end-all, be-all of the case."
Gifford pointed to Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Collins' testimony, which stated Floyd's wounds were "superficial" and he could've been saved, in an attempt to disprove the charge of intentional murder. He further pointed to a technicality that the riot only last 30 minutes or so.
"Had the state charged that had Floyd died during the commission of a felony and kidnapping, some of these guys indicted might probably have a lot of trouble. But the riot? It’s disorderly conduct...intending to commit or facilitate the crime of assault, that all happens first thing…so the felony murder charge, the way the state is looking at this is way too broad, and you can't buy into it," Gifford urged the jury.
Downs began his closing argument with the notion that the terror behind the walls of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna on February 1 and 2 wasn't a peaceful protest gone awry--as inmate Jarreau Ayers had testified he believed--but instead, a violent takeover.
"It was planned, it was organized, the attacks were done simultaneously on the staff--the correctional officers inside--they were restrained and secured in closets," described Downs. "This was a plan that was carried out with weapons, with force, with violence and, because it was it was reasonably foreseeable that not only would injury occur, but death would occur...the inmates were liberated, and they began to have fun--just walking around, talking, cooking, and eating," said Downs.
He said inmates went to great lengths to make preparations, pointing out:
"Even [kidnapped counselor Patricia] May told you the masks they put over her head had looked like someone had stitched it, it wasn’t like a T-shirt they threw over her head. Someone had prepared something to go over her head."
Gifford agreed the plan was certainly premeditated and organized--but that the inmates' testimony was as well.
"Does anybody think that these guys planned the takeover, planned this attack, and never thought 'how do we get away with this?'" he asked. "Isn’t that what people who commit crimes do? Isn’t that why we have police officers who have to work hard to catch people, because they take steps to conceal their crimes? Do any of you believe that these people didn’t talk in [prison] and say, 'Let’s say this guy did it...this guy doesn’t know a lot of people, a lot of people don’t recognize him, he’s only been in the building four weeks.'"
But Gifford appealed heavily to the jury on the prosecution's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt:
"If you think Mr. Forney is probably guilty…that’s not good enough. If you think it’s highly probable…not just scale a little bit tipped, but a little more tip, that’s not good enough either...even if you don’t believe the other--whatever you’re thinking--even if you think it’s unlikely, unless you think it’s unreasonable…'Hawaii doesn’t exist'—that’s reasonable doubt--and you have to acquit."
Accomplice Liability Theory
The prosecution's cases rested on the accomplice liability theory--all 16 inmates indicted are responsible for Floyd's death because they acted as accomplices in the riot and assaults. Which, translated simply, means: even if an inmate only assaulted one officer, he can be liable for the murder of another.
"There is not in the evidence, who inflicted the death blow. We don’t have the evidence that this person was the person who made sure Steven Floyd was dead and was there when he took his last breath. But the people working together to commit the assaults, to commit the riot, are responsible for the actions of the others as accomplices," said Downs.
He likened it to the getaway driver in a bank robbery:
"If you’re just driving, [and a friend] says, 'Take me to the bank'…you’re merely present at that crime scene. If you knew the person was going to rob the bank and they told you: 'I’m going to go in and give the teller a note and demand money,' and you do it anyway, as an accomplice, you’re guilty of the robbery. If you don’t know the person has a gun, and he goes in the bank, pulls out gun, and he shoots the bank clerk, the driver may be guilty of the robbery, but not of the murder, because he didn’t know that it was reasonably foreseeable that the guy had a gun, would pull it out, and shoot someone."
Except in the instance of the riot, Downs described a premeditated, violent takeover with weapons, including shanks, mop wringers, and fire extinguishers.
"Was it reasonably foreseeable that someone could die as a result of forcibly, violently taking over Building C? The evidence suggests it was, and because of that, the defendants can be found guilty as either a principal--because they were the ones that did it--or as an accomplice--because they aided. And in this crime, as you know, you had [correctional officers]...all of them had to be subdued simultaneously because you couldn’t go from one end to the other because they would have time to call for help, time to react, time to do something...and you own the actions of those other people if you agree to be with them."
John Downs said Forney was a soldier--involved in the attack on correctional officer Wilkinson and restraining him so that the bigger plan, could be accomplished. Downs pointed out that, in Forney's testimony, Forney denied having the nickname "Twin" prior to the riot.
"The evidence would suggest Deric Forney knew 'Twin' was involved, and you can infer as you’ve heard from the evidence, not a lot of people knew government names, they knew them by OB, Smoke, Nye, Diamond, Ruck...'I don’t know his real name I just knew him as Twin,'" said Downs. "So when Deric Forney said 'Oh, I only started to get called Twin after this,' that’s a little separation he wants from this case because evidence is: Twin, with Ruck and Staats and the others, took over building C in a violent manner and they should be held accountable."
Gifford argued Forney's name rarely came up in witness testimony.
"The only thing we heard about Deric Forney after all of the riot had occurred is that he went to someone’s cell for a cinnamon roll because he was hungry," he said. "He told you he wasn’t involved, if you think that there is a possibility--a probability--that he is telling you the truth, under oath, you have to acquit."
Downs said Ayers told his sister on the phone about the attack the day prior.
"Jarreau Ayers tried to tell you he thought it was going to be a peaceful protest—that’s all he knew was going to happen. That phone call tells a different story. It tells you we were conversing about this that and the other, we were going to give everybody one more 'store' and you heard that original this plan was to go off after the Super Bowl--the most viewed event in America--they wanted to watch the Super Bowl, knowing if they did it before the Super Bowl, they would be in lockdown, in the SHU (secure housing unit). So the plan was to do it after the Super Bowl, and that’s what he’s talking to his sister about: get him money for the store so he can go to commissary, so he can buy his PB and crackers. He thought that was pretty funny, when you’re planning a violent takeover of a building."
"Defendants testified Jarreau Ayers told you he only got involved because he wanted to help people out, help the medical people out, all he knew was a peaceful protest. His phone call to his sister shows you he knew more. 'He didn’t assault anyone, didn’t kidnap anyone, he didn’t murder anyone.' Evidence suggests that as an accomplice Jarreau Ayers is liable for his conduct and the conduct of the others in that violent takeover."
Prosecutors also accused Ayers of telling half-truths.
"He will tell you as much of the truth as he wants to tell you. Because on direct [examination], he said, 'I wasn’t involved, I know who was involved, I know who ordered everyone in,' and when [prosecutor] Mr. Robinson asked who was that, 'I’m not telling you.' When he was ordered by the judge [to answer], he said, 'I don’t know.'"
A Case Built on the Backs of 'Desperate' Men
In his closing remarks, Jarreau Ayers said the state's case was built on the backs of men with desperate dreams--dreams to go home.
"Antonio Guzman told ya’ll from that stand when I asked him, 'When did you realize you wasn’t gonna get a deal?' He said, 'About a week ago.' So that means while we was picking the jury and doing all these things, he still thought he was gonna get a deal. He gave his statement in February 2017, all the way until a week ago, he testified almost two years he believed he was gonna get a deal. I’ve never believed in something two years straight and stopped believing it in seven days."
He found out "something" was going to happen inside the prison the day before, Ayers said, but that shouldn't be held against him.
"Me knowing that something is going to happen is completely different than me planning something, me helping somebody do something," he said. "They charged me with planning the takeover [but] not one person got on that stand and testified that I planned anything...nobody testified they seen me with any weapons, wearing masks."
He also questioned the lack of evidence in the case.
"The state tries to come with a common sense theory of 'everybody lives in a house and you touch stuff'...if they had a glove right now that had my finger, my DNA, and my blood on the inside, and Sgt. Floyd's DNA and blood on the outside, they would be parading that glove in front of ya’ll every chance they got to show that I was attached to the glove…now all of a sudden because there’s no DNA attached, DNA doesn't matter."
Ayers went through each witness--similar to during his questioning--and pointed out inconsistencies between their testimonies and their statements made to police. He pointed out the state's star witness--convicted murderer Royal "Diamond" Downs, who plead guilty in a secret deal in exchange for his testimony--said repeatedly that Ayers, who goes by the name "Ruck" behind bars, wasn't involved.
"One thing he told the detectives over and over and over again, 'I don't know why Ruck charged.' Don’t pay attention to that, just pay attention to when he says Staats got the walkie talkie and the knife, [but] when [Downs] says, 'I don’t know why Ruck charged,' don’t pay attention to that. When he say 'Ruck was outside,' don’t pay attention to that."
Downs pointed out that Royal Downs' testimony should be viewed with great care and suspicion because he did, in fact, take a deal.
"People who take a deal may try to minimize their involvement and put the blame on everybody else; nobody wants that kind of testimony. So the court will tell you that in those cases, it should be examined with more care and caution than a witness who made no such agreement. If testimony is bolstered by others, you may rely it like you would any other witness," said John Downs as he then went through an outline of corroborating evidence.
Gifford used that approach to appeal to the jury's reasonable doubt.
"A correctional officer died. Don’t you think that, in the community of the DOC, that was a big deal? Of course it was, it was a tragedy and they lost a brother. Do you think its possible that inmates who testified--and who the DOC perceives to have helped the prosecution--that the DOC helped them out a little bit?...'We’re going to send you out of state.' You’ve heard witnesses testify they are sent out of state because of fear of retaliation, snitching. The Delaware prison system is so awful--would you lie to get out?"
'This Case is about Truth'
In his closing remarks, Dwayne Staats said this case is about "truth"--something he said the prosecution did not strive for in this case. Staats previously admitted on the stand to plotting the overthrow.
"The truth is known to reveal harsh realities. The truth also can set you free--literally and figuratively--and sometimes the truth hurts the ones you love. Even still, the truth is frequently summoned to contest dishonesty, deceit, untrustworthiness, contradictions, and fabrications. These are all byproducts of the state’s presentation, which is hedged upon a deficient investigation, and in order to steer you away from that truth, the state resorted to falsifying evidence collected at the scene...that wasn’t even linked to me and any other defendant. There wasn’t even testimony that any of us possessed anything that was found. Then they seized every opportunity to parade around photos of my co-defendants."
He accused the state of creating an illusion by strategically assembling a rotation of witnesses.
"You heard a lot of incriminating testimony especially [against] Obadiah 'OB' Miller and Lawrence Michaels. But what you didn’t hear was five witnesses that said, 'I stabbed Floyd.' Where they at??
Staats named several inmates, saying it's "obvious" that weren't deemed credible.
"But I bet they activate 'em in somebody else's trial." he said. "In this trial, there was no testimony mentioning me, as an individual, that aided in the murder of Sgt. Floyd; there was no testimony that implies that I was involved in assaulting COs Winslow Smith or Wilkinson...the state is relying heavily on accomplice liability theory," he said. "In regard to murder charges, I never intended, promoted, or facilitated the commission of that crime, and I never requested, commanded, aided, counseled [it.]"
Prosecutors accused Staats of only being concerned with his letter of intent from the governor, which he requested on a walkie talkie during hostage negotiations.
"Would someone who organized the takeover, who recruited the people got it going, have no idea what’s happening? He’s on the walkie talkie and tells you he has no idea why Joshua Wilkinson and Winslow Smith got out. All he was doing was negotiating for his letter of intent while Steven Floyd bled to death."
Staats called Floyd's death an "isolated incident."
"It was a crime committed by some people independent of me...it had no significance to the original act. Sgt. Floyd's death had no bearing on the furthering of the commission of any felony. It's pretty clear that none of us in this trial assaulted or murdered any guard," he said. "From my limited understanding of the instructions concerning accomplice liability, it seems you might be possibly asked to find one of my co-defendants--that’s not in this trial--guilty in order to testify finding me guilty of this charge--that shouldn't even be an option, especially since the rest of my defendants haven’t had their day in court yet. Isn’t a person innocent until proven guilty?"
He didn't come up with the plan to overthrow the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center riot in a way, he came up with it "all the way."
Inmate Dwayne Staats, who's been charged with murder in the death of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd, took the stand Tuesday and admitted to masterminding the riot, citing deteriorating quality of life issues behind bars that he said were ignored for too long.
"My goal was to do something to expose this place to where the public and government would take notice. Guess I got their attention," he said. "A lot of stuff wasn’t being addressed until that happened...I just wanted to put the attention on the prison because everybody was like oblivious to what was going on."
Staats testified the takeover was "absolutely necessary," but said the murder of Floyd wasn't "part of his plan," adding he was unaware of it for some time while the riot continued to unfold over the span of two days. He also claimed to be unaware of other acts of violence that occurred once his plan was put into action.
"I mean, it’s a tragedy that he died, but that wasn’t the plan...I gotta eat that [because] that’s what happened in my plan," he said.
A letter, written by Staats, had been submitted into evidence by the prosecution to use against him, but Staats chose to read it aloud, line-by-line. After every few lines, he'd testify to what he was thinking when he wrote it.
"Every time I see the news article or hear about it on the radio, I be like 'damn, all this happened because of one thought in this brain of mine,'" the letter read. "Honestly, it feels surreal knowing that everything that transpired started from one thought...now I truly understand the concept of the tree is inside the seed. If sh*t hit the fan and my number is called, I’m going pro se. Eff a suit, I’m wearing a T-shirt and DOC pants. This is gonna be epic."
He followed through on the promise to represent himself, and did so Tuesday as the trial entered its fourth week; however, he wore a button down shirt and pants, saying he didn't want any “beef” with his sister.
"I didn’t wear no mask or nothing, so it was a high probability that I was going to get indicted, and I wasn’t ducking at it or nothing like that."
He also admitted to possessing a knife during the riot, "cause I'm a loner" he said, as he further elaborated that the riot was premeditated.
"I put [in] deep thought, this ain’t no rash decision. You living and surviving, feel this stuff, so it’s like a deep contemplation, so then when you see it manifest in reality, it feel surreal sometimes ‘cause you like, this actually happened, years and years I’ve been around people...for me it was just time," he said.
"For me, it wasn’t really about the violence," he wrote.
He explained his thinking: "I didn’t kill nobody, I didn’t even assault nobody. Am I capable? Probably, anybody's capable of violence. You got 10-year-olds committing violent acts, that wasn’t part of the plan. The takeover, of course [there would] be some assaults and that stuff, but my hands? Nah."
“Those who understand that the uprising needed to happen knew that sh*t was going to get worse before it got better," he read from his writing.
He further explained: "I guess that’s with anything we’re fighting for…that’s what the struggle is...keep pushing, pushing, pushing. You might get pushed back, but that’s the hope--that one day it’s going to get better."
Staats testified that his goal was to the walkie talkie for negotiations and keep counselor Patricia May safe; he testified he paid special attention to her-- despite admitting to taking her hostage--in the riot over correctional officers.
"Once I got the walkie talkie that was the end of my plan, I just wanted to keep Miss May safe since we speaking about it, the officers left her, the governor ain't show his face to come get her. But I'm pretty sure you don’t care about none of that," he said. "She’s an elderly woman so I paid special attention to her over correctional officers, I'm sorry, I'm sorry man...when you get into a 'by any means mode' sometimes you do what's necessary."
May suffered no physical injuries in the riot and kidnapping.
During the presentation of his case, Staats also brought up a witness of his own, inmate Curtis Demby. Demby testified that within Staats' first week in C Building, Staats asked him--and other "old-timer lifers"—to participate in a takeover.
"He said the takeover would be taking the prison guards hostage, no violence...I said I didn't want any parts of it, and he was like 'OK,'" said Demby, who said the plan involved the entire prison and not just building C. "Definitely killing guards was not in your plans."
Demby added he wasn't inclined to say who was involved in the attacks, despite claiming to know their identities.
"Because I'm in prison; it could get me killed."
Staats, serving a life sentence for murder, refused to identify six inmates directly involved in attacks on correctional officers—like defendant Jarreau Ayers.
"I had a rough two years man, I'm mentally deteriorated. Me and Mr. Ayers got the same condition...I don't remember," he said. "You can dress it up any way you want to. I’m telling you, I stated if I was gonna go that route, I would’ve corroborated with that all. If I was gonna do all that--point people out--cooperate with the state, I’d have done it when you came in and talked to me."
Growing further agitated on cross examination, prosecutor John Downs asked Staats whether it was festive in the prison while Floyd was in the mop closet, and once he found out "how bad" Floyd was, couldn't Staats have said, "We need to get him out of here?"
"I was waiting on a letter of intent from the governor that was promised to me," replied Staats.
"So Floyd died [but] if you got your letter of intent that was OK?" asked Downs.
"It’s not OK, it’s what happened, it’s the reality of the situation.”
Throughout his testimony and on cross examination, Staats continued to claim responsibility for the riot.
"I guess this whole thing, right now, it’s just me taking responsibility for the uprising. I’mma own it," said Staats.
"I didn’t kill nobody, I didn’t assault nobody, I didn’t kidnap nobody."
Those words stood out and were repeated several times as inmate Jarreau Ayers became the first inmate to take the stand Tuesday in his own defense after being charged with murdering correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd in a violent prison riot last year.
Ayers, who's serving two life sentences for murder, testified on November 13, 2018, that he knew the day prior to the riot something was going to go down inside C Building at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, where issues had been brewing for quite some time.
"It was no secret," he said.
Ayers had only moved into C Building about two months before the revolt. There, he claimed he was promised a lower bunk due to a ACL injury that had him on crutches. When he was issued a top bunk, he said Floyd told him: "That's not my job."
He testified about peaceful protests conducted over issues with the phone. The day before the riot, he called his sister to tell her something was going to go down.
But he claims he couldn't have known exactly what would unfold.
"It really don’t matter, if we end up having to spend some time in the [secure housing unit], at least the administration is going to look into the officers, look into what’s going on, and the people that come behind us, they gonna have better living conditions, and eventually when we make it back out, those living conditions will be there for us," he said. "Somebody is going to be the first ones that speak up...I have no problem being a spokesperson or a leader or whatever they want to categorize me as...I accepted whatever was coming to me."
Ayers said he was in the recreational yard when he heard "Code 1, Code 1, Code 1," which means assault on an officer. He claimed to stay out in the yard for the next 10 to 15 minutes, while others testified the brutal assaults of Floyd and correctional officers Joshua Wilkinson and Winslow Smith were underway.
He said the state's star witness, Royal Downs, told him to "stand down."
"That's a hard pill to swallow at the time because, like I said, I had the ACL--I could move around some--but mainly at the end of the day, if there’s people that you got love for that’s in there--right, wrong, or indifferent--you want to be in there with 'em. But they chose for me not to be there, they chose for me not to be a part of that situation. That was a decision that they made that I still take issue with at times. But it was what it was; I’m out in the yard, I don’t know what’s going on in there. I’m pissed."
He kept using the pronoun "they," refusing to directly accuse anyone of their role during the riot, and blasted Downs for taking a deal from the prosecution in exchange for testifying. Downs pled guilty in a secret deal months before trial began.
"I didn’t kill nobody, I didn’t assault nobody, I didn’t kidnap nobody. Anything other than that I’m not ducking from, I'm not hiding from any of that. I love my comrades and I’mma stand by 'em 100 percent," he said. "I'm not taking no deals like Royal Downs. I’m not pointing out people for the benefit…I don’t even know the benefit. It’s baffling to me."
He claimed Downs had the same visions he had--of wanting to improve life behind bars and rehabilitate offenders.
"Then [he] turn around and get up here...I can't do that, and I don't know if me not being able to do that and me being friends with individuals--I don't know if that translates to guilty [but] I'm telling you I ain't kill nobody, I ain't assault nobody, I ain't kidnap nobody.'
Ayers claimed to be responsible for gathering up inmates on the tier who needed medical attention at the request of inmate Dwayne Staats, who's also currently on trial for murder.
"That was the first time, at that point, that I even got involved in anything," he testified. "I open that damn door, and they rushed. They rushed the whole yard, they coming in, all-black-suited up--helmets, guns, they rush. I slammed the door shut...I was pissed."
A recording played earlier at trial revealed Ayers' anger. He explained:
"I snapped. I tell them what I told them, ya’ll gonna hear it. I’m pissed, I’m trying to do the right thing…trying to follow protocol...trying to get these people out that say they have medical issues."
Those in need of medical attention were released at one point during the negotiations--among them, CO Wilkinson.
Ayres also testified that Floyd shouldn't have died in the February 2017 riot.
"Bad things happen when you have good intentions," he said as he expressed frustration over the criminal justice system. "[They] do a five-year sentence, go home with no job training, no programs, no mental health, moms on drugs, dad on drugs, and they goin’ out there with nothing after they just did five years in prison, and then they get into a stupid dispute, kill somebody, and come back for the rest of they life...I’m not dissociating myself from that feeling."
Several inmates who took the stand for the prosecution testified that Ayers, who goes by the nickname "Ruck" behind bars, was "in charge" of the door. None claimed to see Ayers attack any correctional officers, nor did they testify that he had a weapon or any blood on him.
"First of all...you never ever walked to the door to see if you could just leave your damn self? Let’s be honest. You saying I told you, you couldn’t leave. Did you ever go to the door and try to walk out? [Everybody] was sitting around, partying, and then you turn around because you think you might get some type of favor from the state to say, 'Hey man, Ruck said I couldn’t leave.' And then, I'm frustrated, frustrated like hell because I’m sitting over and I’m saying, 'I ain't never said that before.'"
"You can’t even really blame them, you can’t blame 'em because they broke; the time, the pressure, everything, it broke them. And I just hope you don’t hold it against me for not breaking. I didn’t kill nobody, I didn’t kidnap nobody, I didn’t assault nobody, and I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen; I knew something was going to happen. That’s it."
A motion to acquit Deric "Twin" Forney for the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd in a violent prison riot has been denied.
As the prosecution rested and the trial entered its fourth week, Forney's attorney Ben Gifford made the motion, citing a lack of evidence against his client.
"The state has presented no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Forney directly did anything to intentionally cause the death of Sgt. Floyd; in terms of accomplice liability, there’s literally no evidence. The only evidence in the record of planning is Royal Downs’ testimony in which he said, I believe…'Most of those guys assisted in the planning of what was going to happen except for Twin.' He specifically exempted Mr. Forney…from any meeting or advanced planning. No testimony that Mr. Forney attacked Sgt. Floyd, only testimony…is that he physically assaulted Officer Wilkinson with his hands and fists."
Gifford admitted a tenable case exists for Forney's alleged role in an attack on Officer Joshua Wilkinson, according to testimony the jury heard from various inmates.
The state argued plenty of evidence has been supplied to prove Forney could be found guilty of conspiracy to riot and murder under accomplice liability.
"This was a conspiracy to commit a takeover of a building in which weapons were involved, masks were provided, there was planning, there was organization, there were three correctional officers who had to be assaulted at the same time in order to accomplish the purpose of the building takeover," said prosecutor John Downs. "And under accomplice liability theory, while evidence may be that Mr. Forney was involved in the attacks on CO Wilkinson, he was part of a larger plan in which to attack and take custody, kidnap each of the DOC employees in that building."
The jury was not in the room for the motion's introduction or dismissal.
Presiding Judge William Carpenter denied the motion, determining "significant evidence" presented allows all charges filed against Forney to go forward.
"I will grant that the evidence is not as significant against Mr. Forney, as it is, perhaps, against Mr. [Jarreau] Ayers or Mr. [Dwayne] Staats, but under the accomplice liability theory, those crimes that would be reasonably expected to occur or may occur, the defendants who participate in the riot can be charged as an accomplice--even if they were not in principle."
Forney, Ayers, and Staats are the first trio of inmates on trial for the February 2017 riot, during which Floyd was brutally murdered, two other correctional officers were badly beaten, and a prison counselor was kidnapped. Sixteen inmates were charged in Floyd's murder with trials expected to continue into next year.
Tuesday, November 13, 2018, Staats and Ayers began presenting their defense with inmate witnesses. Ayers is expected to testify on his own behalf.
The murder trial of three inmates charges in connection with the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center riot that claimed the life of Lieutenant Steven Floyd enters its fourth week in Superior Court.
The defendants will begin calling their own witnesses after three weeks of prosecution testimony that included other inmates, two correctional officers who survived being taken hostage and attacked, a counselor who was tied up for hours, and a heavy focus on recorded phones calls, negotiations carried out over radios and written notes.
Two of the inmates, Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats, are representing themselves. Deric Forney has an attorney, Ben Gifford.
Friday, the state called handwriting forensic investigator Andrew Sulner to the stand. As part of the investigation, Sulner reviewed two written documents without knowing who the state believed wrote them. He used letter strokes, height and other patterns on the letters, compared them to other writing samples and made a judgement as to who wrote them - with "virtual certainty," he said.
State Police Detective David Weaver was again called to testify. In one of the letters, which are known as "kites," Staats is quoted as saying "for me, it really wasn't about the violence. My goal was to do something to expose this place to the public and government will take notice."
Prosecutors are trying to show that Staats and Ayers had instrumental roles in plotting the violent uprising. Another of the "kites" was attributed by prosecutors to Roman Shankaras, who will be tried later.
Weaver also explained the challenges of trying to carry out interviews with 126 inmates who were in Building C at the time. Correctional officers had to take them into rooms with glass windows, so they were seen from outside.
"They knew they were being watched. They knew they were being timed. They wanted to leave the room," Weaver said.
Further interviews were carried out in the prison infirmary, which had more privacy. Inmates were also subpoenaed to be interviewed in the holding area of the New Castle County Courthouse.
The aftermath in the building following the hours-long standoff was also further detailed by Weaver. He said he sought to find items that could provide helpful clues such as DNA evidence, but several inches of water were still on the floor. Homemade shanks, mop-wringer parts that were apparently used as weapons, discarded and burned clothing and other items were found.
"Contamination played a large role in whether or not evidence was sent," Weaver said.
He also said autopsy results and details about weapons were not released in order to protect the integrity of such information, much of which was known only to inmates at the time.
13 other inmates also face murder charges, and will be tried in separate groups.
Each inmate who takes the stand has a different account of what happened behind prison walls during a two-day riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna in February of 2017, but there's one consistency.
If they witnessed the fatal attack on Lt. Steven Floyd and they name one of his attackers, it's Obadiah Miller, who goes by the nickname "OB" behind bars.
Miller, who will be part of a trial at a later date, was consistently described across witnesses as the only inmate not wearing a mask during the brutal attack. Inmate Michael Rodriguez's description of him was jarring.
"He look like a butcher. He had a thermal on...big red blood all over him, so I'm looking at him like, 'What f*** did you do?' He took his gloves off...you see the cuts in between his fingers. He was like, 'Man, I had to put that work in; I had to do what I had to do.' So I said, 'Yeah you f***ing stupid.'"
"Once I seen all the blood and all that sh*t I was trying to get the f*** outta there, excuse my language," Rodriguez said in testimony that continued to be riddled with expletives.
Rodriguez, who behind bars goes by the nickname "Lat" for Latino, testified that he saw two inmates, John Bramble and Deric Forney, AKA "Twin", viciously beating Officer Joshua Wilkinson, who was relatively new to the job when the riot occurred.
"Wilkinson was screaming, 'Please don’t kill me. I have a little girl, a little daughter.' He was trembling. He had fear written all over him," said Rodriguez.
To which Forney, who's one of the three inmates currently on trial for murder, responded: "Shut the f*** up," according to Rodriguez, though he would admit he never told that to detectives.
He said neither Forney nor Bramble had weapons.
"They was just punching him, his face; they had masks on but it was like partly on, partly off. You could see their face clearly."
Later, he testified Corey "Cream" Smith hit Wilkinson with a mop wringer.
For the first time in testimony, Dwayne Staats, who's also on trial for murder, was named as one of Floyd's alleged attackers. Rodriguez testified he saw Staats and Lawrence "Smoke" Michaels beating the correctional officer while he was still standing. But again, Rodriguez said he didn't see any weapons.
"There was blood all over his face, blood in his nose, blood coming out his mouth. [Floyd] kept saying, 'Why ya'll doing this?'"
He said Floyd put up quite a fight to try to prevent being locked in the mop closet.
"I see OB stabbing him on the side. At this time, he’s on the ground, on his knees, and they’re trying to like push him in," he said.
He said inmate Jarreau "Ruck" Ayers, whose currently on trial for murder, controlled the door and whether inmates could come or go during the riot--a memory other inmates have also shared in testimony. He also testified that Staats was on a walkie talkie making demands to police, which, for a time, were heard on scanner chatter via the app Broadcastify.
Rodriguez claimed to be one of the inmates protecting counselor Patricia May, who was held hostage.
"I told Diamond [government name Royal Downs], I was like, ‘Yo man don’t do nothing to that lady.' Diamond was like, 'Ain't nothing going to happen to her'…I wanna make sure no one touch her because, you know, you got rapists on the tier…just put her right there so I can make sure," he said. "I kept my door open so I could make sure…she was sitting right on top of the locker box, I was making sure nobody touch her--me and my cellie--but I wasn’t trying to get involved in nothing. I just didn’t want nothing to happen to her, basically."
He also described the attack on correctional officer Winslow Smith.
"Smitty was balled up in the fetal position because he was getting beat on by other inmates, which one of 'em was Luski, [whose government name isn't known]. He had the mop wringer in his hand...You could see blood on the mop wringer...As soon as they saw Floyd was putting up a fight...everybody just went at [Smitty], and everything just really got bad for him. Real bad."
He claimed Smoke was also involved in that attack.
Rodriguez testified he told his friend, Downs, who's also the state's star witness, that there was blood everywhere. He claimed Downs responded: "Well that had to happen."
During cross examination, Rodriguez admitted to calling his brother-in-law the day before the riot at the urging of fellow inmate Alejandro "Capo" Rodriguez-Ortiz.
"Capo told me, 'Something’s about to happen dawg, you should let your folks know you’re not involved.' I told him that if something happened in this building that, let my mom know... I didn’t think none of this sh*t was serious till the morning."
Criminal defense attorney Ben Gifford, who's representing Deric Forney in the current murder trial questioned why he didn't go to a correctional officer if he knew "something" was going to go down.
"First, that's not what you do in jail. Second of all, I didn’t know it was going to be this," said Rodriguez.
Gifford got Rodriguez to admit he's being housed with 24 other inmates on the same tier who are testifying in this case, and they all talk and read the newspaper.
When asked whether prosecutors or police ever told him not to read the newspaper he said defiantly: "Even if they tell me, I’m not going to listen to what they tell me. I’m gonna read it."
"Of course people talkin'...it’s the convo right now. Who’s not talking about this case?" he asked. "Who doesn't [read the paper]? It’s there. there’s nothing else to do in there."
Inmates questioning inmates led to some tense moments, including some sparring between Rodriguez and Ayers. Ayers was able to prove that nothing Rodriguez said on the stand about Ayers' involvement in the riot was information he previously disclosed to detectives in interviews.
Staats questioned Rodriguez's knowledge of what happened during the riot and pointed out that he had apparently written to DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps and the deputy warden to get Capo moved into his cell, so he could fish for more information, calling it a "desperate obsession."
"It's called the truth man...I knew what I told 'em because I seen what I seen...I mighta not had everything, and I wanted everything because what ya'll did was f***ed up dawg. You turn me from a person to a victim, water up to my knees, blood everywhere. I mean, the way ya'll handled that building was crazy man."
He also questioned whether Rodriguez had any involvement in the riot.
"I’d be where you at right now," said Rodriguez.
To which Staats responded: "Whatchu mean, you'd be where I'm at? You'd be where you at," insinuating Rodriguez struck a deal to testify.
Staats questioned Rodriguez's willingness to testify, given his status as a habitual offender. Rodriguez--a habitual offender who has 37 years left on sentence for assault, burglary, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, reckless endangering, aggravated menacing, and possessing prison contraband--claimed he's received nothing from prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.
"There’s a difference from 10 years ago, and the person I am today. I ain’t gonna sit there and witness something that happened to a man that’s a father, a brother, a son. I can’t sit there and witness somebody getting hit up the way he was and brutalized the way he was and not say nothing—it’s eating me up it’s called a conscious—that’s what it’s called."
That's how it feels to Delaware Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps as an ongoing trial focuses on the circumstances of the February 2017 inmate riot at the Vaughn Prison near Smyrna that killed Lieutenant Steven Floyd.
Three inmates are on trial for murder. Other inmates were also indicted and will be tried later.
Phelps has attended parts of the trial, and spoke during a break Friday about the impact of the case, recruiting efforts, the death of a potential inmate witness and reports of drones being flown over Vaughn Prison.
According to Phelps, officers, staff and inmates have all been affected as the trial runs its course.
"We have to make sure we're attending to their mental health needs, their emotional needs and anything else we can help them with," Phelps said. "It's not easy."
He praised the officers and support staff as they carry on the mission of the correction system. Many of them, Phelps said, went right back into Building C hours after Floyd was killed, two other officers were assaulted and a prison counselor was taken hostage.
Earlier this week, the DOC announced a two-year contractual agreement under which up to 330 inmates would be transferred to facilities in Pennsylvania. During that time, the department hopes to fill many of the existing vacancies in the correctional officer force. The recruitment efforts, Phelps said, may reach into other states where the unemployment rate may not be as low as it is in Delaware.
Additionally, new correctional officers will qualify for tuition assistance if they want to pursue their education.
The agreement with Pennsylvania is for two years, with the possibility of extensions that Phelps hopes will not be necessary. He also recognized the concern of families that may need to travel to Pennsylvania to visit incarcerated loved ones.
"Once we realize the net value of staff has gone up enough, we would start bringing them back," Phelps said.
Addressing recent reports of drone flights over Vaughn Prison, Phelps said the DOC is looking to see which laws apply and which may have been violated, as well as investigating whether any technology is available that could detect or prevent these drone flights.
The trial of Jarreau Ayers, Dwayne Staats and Deric Forney will continue in Superior Court Tuesday. The defense will have the opportunity to call witnesses and face questions from the prosecution.
An inmate died at the Howard R. Young Correctional Center Thursday, who was a potential witness in the first trial of inmates charged in a violent prison riot that left a correctional officer dead.
Luis Cabrera, 49, of Bear, was found dead at 4:54 a.m. Thursday, November 8, 2018, according to the Delaware Department of Correction. Prison officials said foul play wasn't suspected.
When asked whether Cabrera's death was suicide, a spokeswoman responded: "DOC does not determine cause of death."
Cabrera's body was turned over to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science for an autopsy that will determine the exact cause of death.
Gravell confirmed to WDEL that there's only one Luis Cabrera in Delaware DOC custody.
Cabrera had been included in a list of potential witnesses associated with the murder case of Lt. Steven Floyd, killed during a February siege at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, where he was housed at the time of the riot. Cabrera was not among the 18 inmates charged in connection with the riot.
He was serving three life sentences plus an additional 44 years for three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of conspiracy, two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and first-degree burglary.
Thursday, during the trial, prosecution witness Michael Rodriguez testified that Luis Cabrera or "Louie" as he was called in prison was a cellmate of Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz, who goes by the nickname "Capo" behind bars. The name "Capo" comes up frequently during the trial, as several inmates testified to seeing him beat Officer Winslow Smith with a mop wringer and suffer an injury to his own hand during the riot. Rodriguez-Ortiz is one of 16 inmates charged in Floyd's death, who will be tried at a later date.
Michael Rodriguez also testified that Capo possibly had prior knowledge of the riot.
"He said: 'You might want to call your folks just in case something happens,' and that’s what I did," detailed inmate Michael Rodriguez.
Cabrera's death wasn't discussed in court Thursday.
Criminal defense attorney Ben Gifford, who's representing Deric Forney in the current murder trial, said he hadn't planned to call Cabrera as a witness.
Prosecutor John Downs would not confirm whether they had been planning to call Cabrera to the stand.
Had Lt. Steven Floyd received much-needed medical attention earlier during a riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February of 2017, the correctional officer might still be alive today.
As the first trial seeking to prosecute inmates allegedly responsible for the death of Floyd approached the end of its third week Thursday, testimony from the Delaware Division of Forensic Science's Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Collins revealed Floyd was estimated to have died between six and eight hours, perhaps longer, into the siege. Floyd's body was found locked away in a mop closet, under a pile of mattresses in a pool of water, just after 5 a.m. on February 2, 2017.
Various testimony throughout the trial revealed Floyd was brutally beaten by several inmates, though names of the assailants change depending on who's testifying.
Collins conducted the autopsy on Floyd hours later, around 2 p.m., and walked the jury through graphic photos of his many cuts and stab wounds.
"Injuries [Floyd] sustained were significant, but his mechanism of death would be due to bleeding, so he had a lot of external injuries to his body, but there were no internal, severe internal injuries to any major organs that would explain death occurring very quickly," said Collins. "My opinion is that Sgt. Floyd would have died from bleeding because all of the injuries to his face would cause a lot of bleeding, and so it would be difficult for me to say how long he would’ve lived and bled until he died. I really couldn’t say when he would've died."
When asked whether medical treatment could have saved his life, Collins answered affirmatively.
"They were all very superficial, he would’ve had a few scars. If he did die...it would be from complications like infection or something. In my opinion, the injuries--in and of itself--would not immediately be life-threatening," said Collins. "Yes, he would bleed a lot, but he if he was taken for medical care in sufficient time, they could’ve stitched up the wounds and stopped the bleeding and prevented his death."
Prison officials didn't breach C building until more than 15 hours into the riot that spanned two days.
"The warden at DCC had given the go ahead to retake the building and rescue Sgt. Floyd and all the other hostages before their lives were further endangered," a civil lawsuit in the case alleged. "The governor instead intervened, overruled the warden, and halted the rescue attempt, for presently unknown reasons. The governor's actions were a violation of all DCC emergency preparedness, training, policies and procedures governing the rescue of hostages, which placed the rescue attempt in the hands of the Warden who was trained for quick thinking in such an emergency."
That complaint was settled amongst 11 claimants in December of 2017 for $7.55 million.
Floyd's death was declared a homicide by multiple blunt force injuries and injuries by sharp objects. What exactly those objects were, though, he can't say.
"It could be anything--sharp, glass, metal. With cut wounds you have less of a chance of determining what that sharp object is," he said.
Collins testified that no one from the Delaware State Police or the attorney general's office ever approached him with any makeshift weapons or knives found in C Building to correlate possible injuries to weapons. Several shanks were found after the riot and are being used as evidence in the trial.
"I know the police were doing their thing and having seen the facility, I figured it would take them a while if they find anything," Collins said on the stand.
A large majority of Floyd's injuries were suffered on his face and head, according to Collins. Those injuries include lacerations above the eye, the forehead, nose, cheeks, lips, and small puncture wounds on his eyelid.
But whatever hit Floyd repeatedly was stronger than a fist.
"Some of the lacerations--particularly about his eyebrow--I don’t think a fist would cause those injuries," said Collins.
Floyd's skull suffered a three-centimeter laceration, resulting from being struck once or twice in the same area, according to Collins. No skull fractures were indicated in Collins' autopsy report.
Any injuries Floyd suffered from burns or prolonged exposure to water happened post-mortem, according to testimony. Collins used Floyd's skin color to prove that point.
"If he was alive and skin burns, [we] would see a rim of red. There’s no skin blistering," he said as he pointed to a photograph of Floyd's back that showed charred skin.
He illustrated the difference between burn wounds and lacerations or stab wounds and a contusion on Floyd's arm.
"Twenty [superficial] puncture wounds [he experienced] before he died, because they’re red, discolored," he said. [The contusion] is pink, showing he was alive. If he had already died, it would not be pink. Pink means blood is flowing; he may not conscious."
Describing what they were wearing from head-to-toe in intricate detail, for the first time, a witness for the prosecution during week three of the James T. Vaughn prison riot trial positively identified all four of the inmates who allegedly took part in the brutal assault and ultimate killing of Lt. Steven Floyd.
Another first, one of those masked attackers was identified as Jarreau Ayers, or "Ruck", who's currently on trial for murder.
Witness Abdul-Hafid As-Salafi, aka Walter Smith, also identified Obadiah "OB" Miller, Lawrence Michaels, aka "Smoke", and Roman Shankaras, who's been called the "mastermind" of the revolt. As-Salafi described each of their appearances in great detail from the type of sneaker to their hoodie.
"I know who they were by their mannerisms, complexions of their skin. I’ve been around these men long enough that I knew who I was looking at," said As-Salafi in the courtroom on Monday, November 5, 2018.
Previously, inmates who have taken the stand have identified Miller as the sole inmate who wasn't wearing a mask in the attack. Michaels had also previously been named as one of Floyd's attackers by inmates in the courtroom. Miller and Michaels will face trial at a later date.
As-Salafi witnessed the violent attack for a few minutes, he said, and testified to seeing Floyd on the ground with the four inmates kneeling beside him punching him and making "stabbing motions" from his torso to his head.
"I saw no weapons, just blood on their clothes and on Sgt. Floyd," said As-Salafi. "He’s on the ground and bloody. I have no idea [if he was conscious]. It didn’t perceive to be that way."
From just six feet away, As-Salafi named four inmates who he claimed to see attacking Officer Joshua Wilkinson: John Bramble, Corey Smith, aka "Cream", Kevin Berry, and Deric Forney, aka "Twin". Forney was once As-Salafi's cellmate.
"Two were on their hands and knees like they was doing punching towards, or a stabbing motion...the attack just continues. They just kept punching or stabbing him or whatever they was doing. Bramble was hitting him with a mop wringer, I believe at one time," he said. "[Cream] kicked him, and I believe hit him with a trash can. Once officer Wilkinson got hit with the mop wringer, he lost consciousness. [I] saw his eyes go back in his head, snap.”
As-Salafi also provided evidence that the riot was planned premeditated. He claimed to overhear Shankaras talking to three inmates in the area near the mess hall, saying: "Be ready tomorrow morning." He observed inmates Michaels and Luis Sierra, aka "Abdul-Haqq El-Qadeer", aka "Lucy", nod in agreement.
He described conditions in the prison during the overthrow as "mayhem.
"People just coming and going, just doing what they wanted to do--it was a riot."
He also testified to seeing Dwayne Staats, who's currently on trial, walking around with a large weapon. He heard Michaels, aka "Smoke", barking orders at inmates.
"'I can get away with killing any of you motherf***ers right now; this is sacrifice for your all, push your lockerboxes out,'" he claimed Smoke said.
Inmates used locker boxes filled with water to block entrances and exits in the prison.
He testified that he observed Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz, aka "Capo", screaming for people to "get out of the hallway" as he brought Officer Winslow Smith and counselor Patricia May to their respective cells.
"His entire face was bloody; I believe he was handcuffed...and someone made a lewd remark [about the counselor] and Capo was just saying, 'We don't have...time,'" he said.
Inmate Richard McCane heard what may have been Lt. Steven Floyd's last living words:
"'I recognize your voices, I know who you are, and when I'm done with you, you'll never get out of jail.'"
Floyd was brutally beaten and killed in a violent prison riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna last year.
The day began like any other for McCane. The 62-year-old, who has multiple felony convictions and is currently serving a sentence for sexual abuse of a child, began making coffee and returned to his cell for what he called "quiet time," so he could work on his studies.
But nothing was normal after that moment--it was chaos.
"I seen people fighting; I couldn’t tell [who] because they had hoods on," he said. "I saw [Officer Joshua Wilkinson] get struck with a fire extinguisher--the new guy and [Officer Winslow] Smith got hit with a mop wringer, and he was laying around. And the new guy was walking around in a daze saying, ‘I think I’m going to pass out; I think I'm going to pass out.' They hit him pretty good.”
On Friday, during the ninth day of hearings for the first prosecutorial trial following a deadly riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, McCane identified inmate John Bramble--one of 16 inmates charged with the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd--as one of the men kicking Smith while he laid on the ground.
McCane said he also partially witnessed the attack on Floyd.
"I saw two guys pulling Officer Floyd back from the entryway, trying to get to the front door; they had him up under his arm. I saw them drag him back through towards the mess hall, and I heard him [tell the masked men]: 'I recognize your voices; I know who you are, and when I'm done with you, you’ll never get out of jail.'"
McCane said Floyd then winced after he was hit in the side with what appeared to be a weapon.
"I couldn’t tell what it was because, to be quite honest with you, I was quite scared....so I ran and locked myself in my cell."
"I had a guard come by the window and holler into me and ask me, ‘What’s going on in there? Is everybody okay?’ I told him, 'I don’t know, I’m locked in my cell.' He said, 'Well go around there and see what’s going on.' I said 'I can’t, I’m locked in my cell, you go around there and see what’s going on. That’s your job.'"
McCane is one of several inmates to testify and name "OB," or Obadiah Miller, as one of Floyd's unmasked attackers.
Inmate Wade Smith testified after McCane and recalled hearing what sounded like a scuffle. He said he saw someone on the floor being kicked repeatedly by masked men; he thought the man on the ground was a correctional officer. Then he smelled the smoke.
"I remember thinking that we might burn in the building," said Smith.
Smith didn't give a lot of names and said "I don't recall" frequently on the stand, but said Jarreau Ayers, who goes by the nickname "Ruck" behind bars and is currently on trial for Floyd's murder, gave permission as to who could "come and go" during the riot.
In an interview with police, Smith described Ayers' role as a "shot-caller"--a term that had been previously reserved for inmate Roman Shankaras, abruptly removed from this initial trial due to the deterioration of his relationship with his attorney, determined by Judge William Carpenter.
“I can’t say that he facilitated, and I can’t say that he planned it all before, but it seemed like he was the 'shot-caller' that day," according to a transcript.
During cross examination, Ayers and Smith bickered over what that meant.
"It was like I seen you directing who was going to go and who was going to stay…that’s what I meant by facilitator or 'shot-caller,'" said Smith, who added he never saw Ayers with a weapon or a mask. "It was your discretion whether they left or not."
Smith persistently testified that he had wanted to leave C Building before authorities re-took the building.
"At the end of the night...you said no one else was leaving until the morning, and we should cherish the time we have with each other [because] we won’t know when we’ll see each other again because we could be shipped anywhere."
Smith also noted he saw an inmate nicknamed "Nye," but didn't know his government name. It's also the first time the nickname has come up in court.
"[Nye] stabbed [Floyd] repeatedly. [He] said it was as his first time stabbing anyone," said Smith.
Smith said he witnessed John Bramble, another inmate charged with murder who will be on trial at a later date, burning a pile of clothes.
In a subsequent cross examination by criminal defense attorney Ben Gifford, who's representing inmate Deric Forney, Smith said the state's star witness Royal "Diamond" Downs "orchestrated the entire thing," in a police transcript.
"I didn't see him participate in any physical activity; he masterminded the whole thing," he said in a transcript read aloud in the courtroom. Later in court he said: "I can’t say what he masterminded. I know that day I thought, I heard it was his plan.”
Smith claimed everything he testified about as based upon what he witnessed.
'Floyd's Done, He's Cooked'
Eugene Wiggins, who's serving time for robbery, took the stand Monday and was one of several inmates to identify one of Floyd's attackers--Obadiah "OB" Miller, whose mask had fallen off.
"It just looked like he was being punched," said Wiggins. "The only thing I really heard Floyd say was: 'You don’t have to do this. Stop.'"
He testified when he realized the situation had risen to the seriousness of a Code 1--assault on an officer--was serious, he assumed security teams would be in the building within minutes. Then he saw smoke--as in, from literal fire, not inmate Lawrence Michaels, who goes by the nickname "Smoke"--and councilor Patricia May, her hands tied.
"I thought it was just a simple assault. I was under the impression--I know I heard him call the code, so I’m under the impression that the security team is on their way or en route, once I seen the counselor, it’s deeper than that. It’s a lot more serious.”
He identified Staats as possessing a metal shank during the riot.
Later he overhead Shankaras outside his door talking to someone saying: "Floyd was done. He was cooked."
If what he heard was true, he knew he had to get out of there. Wiggins claimed he approached Staats and Ayers asking to leave the building. He claimed Ayers said: "Everybody's gone leave."
“I just remember getting on the phone, talking to my family, I remember all the water, I remember the smoke from people setting fires all the way up until they breached the building and extracted us out of the building.”
What came after that, he testified, was sheer violence.
"We was handcuffed, beat, forced to bend over arms in the air, took our shoes off, threw us in the yard...for at least two hours,” he said.
Wiggins is one of dozens of inmates suing the Delaware Department of Correction for physical abuse in the moments after the building was breached.
During cross, Wiggins was accused of only "remembering" names after he was tired of the CERT shakedowns. On his first day of questioning he responded with: "I don't know nobody."
'It was pretty traumatic'
While on the stand, McCane testified he saw Dwayne Staats, another alleged Floyd murderer, with blood on his shirt.
But in cross, McCane admitted he can't be 100-percent sure he saw Staats' face, but instead "recognized his voice." When asked what Staats said, McCane couldn't recall.
"It was a pretty traumatic experience."
McCane doesn't like being in Building C; he called it a "violent building."
"People got their TV broke; people got hot water thrown on them; people got beat up," he said.
He'd been there only three or four months and said he saw at least four instances of violence--not including the riot.
"I don't consider that violence, I consider that chaos," said McCane.
When the Delaware DOC retook the building McCane said he was one of many inmates brutally beaten.
"They grabbed me by my hoodie, the hood ripped off my hoodie [and] I fell back down, and they kept kicking me, and they said, 'Stop resisting.'"
McCane said he was also hit in the gut and chest with the butt of what looked like a paintball gun before throwing him face down onto the asphalt.
"They came in and beat us real good and I don’t believe in violence, but one of theirs has just been found dead so," he rationalized.
When asked whether physical trauma affected his memory recall he said: "I know where you're going, it's possible."
McCane was described by defense attorney Gifford as jumping at the chance to testify.
According to a court transcript, he agreed to testify, but said he couldn't stay in Smyrna. He hoped to go to Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) to be closer to his family and to take advantage of a program that could help him cut time from his sentence. He also plans to seek a commutation of his sentence, but said that's not why he's on the stand.
"I can't stay here and testify against guys here--that doesn't make sense," he said, and clarified: "Nothing's a condition of my testimony; I'm just doing it because I'm a Christian."
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.
Her name was Tracey, but on the stand, Royal Downs called her "Bonnie." Together, they were Bonnie and Clyde.
In cross-examination Wednesday during the Vaughn prison riot trial's seventh day, it was revealed that in 2005 and 2006, the state's star witness engaged in a romantic relationship with a correctional officer, who's since been fired. Afterwards, Downs said he was sent to the SHU--a secure housing unit.
In a phone call just three days before the riot on January 28, 2017, Downs allegedly told Tracey he "wanted to be home in 2018."
According to a transcript of the phone call, Downs said: "To do what we need to do in order to get a lawyer, I need my Bonnie back the way I had her 10-11 years ago, that’s what I need back at my side to expedite the process of me being where I need to be in 2018."
When Tracey asked what that entailed, he said they couldn't talk about it over the phone. Instead, he said: "I'll write you about it; I'll go more in-depth."
Downs attributed his statements on the call to the fact that a witness had recanted in his Maryland case, and he was hopeful his sentence could be overturned, but criminal defense attorney Ben Gifford, who's representing Deric Forney, questioned that motive given the timing of the call.
Downs' strong desire to be home and see his grandkids--after losing at least two appeals before the parole board in Maryland--fueled the defensive narrative built by fellow inmates Dwayne Staats and Jarreau Ayers, representing themselves, along with Gifford. All three are among 16 inmates charged with the murder of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd.
Gifford hammered at Downs' credibility.
From the beginning, Gifford said Downs wanted a prosecutor present before he gave up pertinent information regarding the violent two-day prison siege. He didn't give up any names until his third meeting on Feb. 17, 2017, less than three weeks after the riot.
"Here’s the thing, I’m still in the institution where this incident happened at. You cannot go somewhere and have an interview with the police and sit in this room for whatever too long without people knowing that you’re giving information…the more information I give, the more I sit in this room. I got to get up out of there, I can’t stay here too long."
While talking to officers, Downs touted his prison record, noting he'd only gotten in trouble once and was well-respected, and made sure to mention he assisted prosecutors in Maryland.
Gifford attempted to poke holes in portions of that testimony, noting Downs was sent to the SHU several times over the years, for possession of additional razor blades, an altered razor blade, and several toothbrushes stuffed into a vent. Toothbrushes can be used to make shanks behind bars.
Downs also told police he wanted "some things," including a transfer out-of-state.
"I told them what I told them because I wanted to get out of Delaware," said Downs.
Then he doubled-back: "I'm not saying things to get out of Delaware."
Downs later clarified: "I wanted out of jail, THAT jail. Wherever, I don't care where they sent me at; I can't give a statement [with them] knowing that statement come out, and stay in Delaware. C'mon man....Delaware's so small."
He denied using the ability to provide information about the Vaughn riot as leverage to have his transfer request approved.
"So you wouldn’t give a statement unless you knew you were being transferred?" asked Gifford.
"I didn’t say 'unless,'" Downs said, then changed his mind on regarding that statement. "I may’ve said that."
But whether it was quid pro quo, Downs did get what he wanted. He was transferred out of Delaware about a year ago, around the same time he was indicted.
Downs' decision to "snitch" on his fellow inmates was also tied by the defense attorney to the possibility of parole in his future.
"You could tell them at your next parole board hearing: 'I got caught up in this hostage situation at James T. Vaughn; I sprung into action to save lives; I cooperated with the deputy attorney general of Delaware, New Castle County; I helped them in their case against multiple defendants, and I ask for leniency and mercy, yes?" asked Gifford.bvv
"Of course that can be said," Downs said.
Gifford said Downs' plea deal would serve as proof enough of his cooperation, negating even the need for a plea from the Delaware Attorney General's Office.
"I never thought of that," said Downs. "Me going home had nothing to do with this case. I never talked to prosecutors or anybody about my case in Maryland."
Downs was indicted along with a host of inmates in October 2017, but secretly plead guilty to charges of rioting, according to The Associated Press. He's yet to be sentenced. Without cooperation, Gifford pointed out Downs faced 105 years behind bars while, with cooperation, he potentially faced anywhere from no additional time to up to three additional years behind bars.
"It's important to you that you not get time added to your sentence?" Gifford asked.
“It’d be important to anybody. Of course I don’t want no more jail time," said Downs.
One by one, prosecution star witness Royal Downs, who's serving a life sentence for murder in Maryland, detailed each inmates alleged involvement in a violent two-day prison revolt that killed correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd.
At times, it was hard to keep up with the testimony due to inmates' nicknames being used over their given names with Downs admitting: "I don't know names."
On Tuesday, October, 30, 2018, Downs' testimony entered day two, wherein he said Lawrence Michaels, nicknamed "Smoke" told him that he stabbed Floyd multiple times.
"He said Floyd tried to fight back, and he stabbed him; he kept trying to fight back, and he stabbed him," said Downs in the courtroom.
Downs testified that "Smoke" was concerned with disposing of his hoodie because it had his name in it and was bloody.
"He didn't want them to get DNA off the hoodie," said Downs.
Testimony also revealed Jonatan Rodriguez, who goes by the nicknames "Cut," "Cutty" and "Cuttle" hit Floyd with a fire extinguisher. Downs said he also noticed Obadiah Miller.
"His clothes was real blood, the shank thad blood on it," said Downs.
Neither Michaels, Rodriguez, nor Miller are currently on trial. A total of 16 inmates, charged in the death of Floyd, will be tried in groups consecutively with trials stretching into 2019.
Tuesday, inmate Roman Shankaras, who was being tied with Jarreau Ayers, Dwayne Staats, and Deric Forney, was dropped from the case and would be tried at a later date, after Judge Carpenter cited a "deteriorating" relationship between him and his attorney Jason Antoine. Antoine had no comment. The legal issues tied to the decision led to the abrupt halt of trial Monday.
But as testimony resumed Tuesday in the trial's second week, Downs testified that Staats--who is currently on trial--had a knife.
"I didn't see anything physical he did; I see him with a knife...a lot of people that I see with a knife; a lot of people had knives, I guess for protection that night," said Downs.
Before leaving Building C during the riot, Downs testified he saw a "pile of clothes" stacked up outside an officer's door.
"I seen it, I didn't think no more of it. My assumption was that [Floyd] might be in that office," he said. "People used clothes to stop the water…I found out later he was under them clothes."
Downs, who was heard extensively on a walkie talkie during hostage negotiations along with Staats, said he left the building early, claiming it was "chaos" during the riot.
"I knew they was coming straight in that building to get me...and Staats. I almost think they thought they could get away with it. I said man, 'I’m out.'"
But Downs said he only took the walkie talkie in the first place in an effort to "save lives." He testified he helped get a handcuff key for Officer Joshua Wilkinson, after his hand began swelling because it was too tight. But in cross examination, inmate Staats tried to prove that Downs' intentions weren't all good.
Staats played a piece of hostage negotiation audio multiple times in the courtroom and asked Downs to identify the voice. The voice on the recording said:
"Floyd's already down, you keep on playing with these demands that we're asking...somebody else going to be next, it ain't no game."
When Downs asked for multiple replays, the audience in the courtroom laughed, prompting a stern warning from the judge.
"If you want to react, you will be out, and you won't come back in, you'll be stopped at the front door," said Carpenter.
Downs never positively identified the voice, but said it was he and Staats involved in negotiations.
Staats attempted to identify multiple times when Downs used his influence behind bars--for both good and bad.
Staats asked: "Were people going to you when they wanted to kill the rats and pedophiles?" Downs answered: "Absolutely, but ain't nothing happen to none of 'em because I was against it."
Staats also asked Downs about a conversation he had with a family member in the penitentiary, wherein it's alleged he asked his daughter to bring weed into prison.
"Truth to be told, I did dirt in prison. You know there was a time when I did do stuff man," said Downs.
"You'll do that to her?" asked Statts. "You don't care about no inmate or CO."
The state's star witness said in effect, snitching, by testifying last week and Tuesday was among the most difficult things he's ever had to do.
"I’ve been locked up almost 30 years, you sit in prison for almost 30 years, for an opportunity to have my [sentence] overturned, [I] thought it would be foolish or idiotic for me to risk going to court in this case when…to get a life sentence for something I absolutely had nothing to do with it," he said. "I got grandchildren in the street now…I can’t leave them like I left my children. Me giving the statement—that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I come up in the streets, and I lived the streets, and I was married to the streets so for me to do that, to do this, this ain’t right, but I’m doing it anyway.”
Downs has had several unsuccessful post-sentence reductions and appeals in the past. He denied having any current application pending, but said he intends to file an appeal. When asked by the state whether the possibility of an appeal affected his testimony, he answered:
During cross examination, Staats, who's representing himself touched on the issue as well, asking whether Downs planned to have the state of Delaware testify before the parole board on his behalf in exchange for his compliance in this case.
He's been called the "mastermind" and "shotcaller" of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center riot that left a correctional officer dead, and now he's no longer on trial--at least for now.
A judge has separated Roman Shankaras, 30, from three other inmates who remain on trial, explaining the reason for Monday's sudden cancellation of trial.
Judge Carpenter cited Shankaras' toxic relationship with his lawyer as the reason for his decision.
"The relationship between Mr. Shankraras and his counsel had deteriorated to the point that it was affecting the fair trial of all of the defendants," said Judge William Carpenter in the courtroom on Tuesday, October 30, 2018.
At one point during the trial last week, Shankaras claimed his attorney was not "objecting enough" during star witness, for the prosecution, Royal Downs' testimony.
Shankaras has been called the "mastermind" of the prison revolt by prosecutors.
Carpenter said Shankaras would be tried at a later date with other inmates in front of another jury. The jury was also instructed not to infer anything from the decision to separate him.
Shankaras is currently serving a seven-year sentence for riot and two counts of first-degree robbery.
Shankaras' attorney, Jason Antoine, had no comment for WDEL.
Jarreau Ayers, 36, Deric Forney, 28, and Dwayne Staats, 35, remain on trial for the murder of Floyd in the two-day siege in February of 2017.
Royal Downs resumed testimony Tuesday. Downs, 52, whose serving a life sentence for murder in Maryland, quietly pleaded guilty to his role in the riot nearly a year ago, according to The Associated Press.
Testimony in the murder trial of four James T. Vaughn Correctional Center inmates in connection with the deadly 2017 riot at the facility was cancelled Monday, October 29, 2018, and the jury was sent home.
Attorneys for the state and two defendants would not comment on the reason for the delay. Judge William Carpenter told the jury that it appeared unlikely that unspecified issues could be resolved within a reasonable time.
The trial is now scheduled to begin its second week Tuesday morning.
Participants in the trial spent more than one hour in a private meeting when court was scheduled to start Monday morning. Inmate Royal Downs was expected to resume his testimony.
Friday, Downs testified that he was aware about a planned inmate demonstration in early 2017, and that he tried to warn correctional staff when he learned the plan had shifted to a building take-over.
Jarreau Ayers, Deric Forney, Roman Shankaras and Dwayne Staats are the first group of inmates to face murder charges in connection with the uprising that resulted in the beating-and-stabbing death of correctional officer Lieutenant Steven Floyd.
The first week of the murder trial of four James T. Vaughn Correctional Center inmates concluded Friday with the start of testimony from the state's key witness: an inmate who reached a plea agreement to riot for his willingness to testify.
Royal Downs was called to the stand by prosecutors. His voice was heard on radio transmissions between inmates and hostage negotiators through the lengthy standoff on February 1st, 2017. The riot resulted in the death of Lieutenant Steven Floyd.
Downs was serving time in Delaware for a Maryland murder conviction under an interstate agreement. He said he had grown to have stature and respect behind bars.
"A lot of stuff came to me, for whatever reason," Downs said.
Downs testified that he became aware of a protest that was in the planning stages in which inmates would refuse to come in from the recreation yard. He said he was against that type of a protest, and would have preferred a protest in which inmates refused to come out of their cells. Downs said there would have been less risk of being "written up" or of officers having to use force.
When he learned that the protest evolved into a planned building takeover, Downs said he tried to warn officers by a note, but he was unable to deliver it. He even told Floyd in the recreation yard the morning of the riot that trouble was brewing.
Floyd, Downs said, seemed to be aware of the potential.
Later that day, Downs would become heavily involved in negotiations over a walkie-talkie
"Had I not stepped up, I do believe more lives would have been lost," Downs said.
Downs named several defendants as being involved in the discussions of the protest-turned riot.
The trial of Jarreau Ayers, Deric Forney, Roman Shankaras and Dwayne Staats will continue Monday. Downs is expected to return to the stand.
The first inmate to be called as a witness in the murder trial of four other offenders told a jury Friday that he saw two correctional officers being assaulted during the February 2017 riot that led to the death of Lieutenant Steven Floyd.
Anthony Morrow, a multiple offender, was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit as he was called by the state. Shortly after he took the stand, an audio clip was played of a phone call Morrow was making to his fiance from the prison barber shop as the uprising was starting.
Screaming is heard in the background. "We fight each other all the time in there," Morrow told the court.
This time, it was different. It was a correctional officer under assault who was shouting.
"He's stabbed up," Morrow is heard telling his girlfriend.
Morrow saw one officer right outside the barber shop window being assaulted. Later, he opened the door and spotted Floyd down on the floor, trying to fight off several offenders.
He heard noise, heard things being broken, and started to smell smoke.
"It was chaos," Morrow said.
Saying he wanted no part of what was going on, Morrow testified that he returned to his cell, where the door was open.
Although he became a hostage himself, Morrow said he was able to make his way a few cells over. There, prison counselor Patricia May was being held hostage. She had been tied up, and what appeared to be a pillow case or a hood had been slipped over her head.
Morrow said he approached May, tried to comfort her and offered to sing for her. She agreed, and Morrow said he sang Gospel tunes.
In the evening, Morrow said he was one of a group of 15 to 20 inmates who were released. They made their way to the recreation yard, where law enforcement officers forced them to the ground. He was later taken to another building on the complex, as were other inmates.
Morrow was also asked about a developing friendship with an inmate in a neighboring cell, Deric Forney. Morrow said he was confident Forney was not one of the attackers, but admitted that if he had been wearing a mask he would not be able to be certain.
"Did you know what he would look like with a mask on?" Deputy Attorney General Nichole Warner asked.
"I wouldn't know what you would look like with a mask on," Morrow replied.
Forney is on trial along with Jarreau Ayers, Roman Shankaras and Dwayne Staats. Additional inmates will be tried in separate groups.
Floyd died of blunt force trauma and apparent stab wounds. His body was found under mattresses in a trashed office, lying in several inches of water.
The panel is also hearing more audio transmissions of hostage negotiations that were carried out over radios between inmates and members of the prison negotiating team.
A prison counselor who was held hostage for hours before being rescued by a response team during the February 2017 riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center was concerned about losing her life in Building C even before the inmate uprising.
Patricia May concluded her testimony Thursday morning as the fourth day of the murder trial of four inmates opened in Superior Court on October 25, 2018.
May showed some emotion as she described her rescue by an incoming team of law enforcement officers after being held hostage by inmates for hours. She was taken directly to an ambulance and was met by Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps and Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security Robert Coupe.
"We all kind of cried together and hugged," May said. "It was very meaningful to me."
May further described her interactions with the inmates who, despite tying her up and covering her head with a hood, treated her with kindness. They cleaned up a bathroom for her, brought her food and water, and according to May one of the inmates sang to her in a voice she described as "angelic." She also said some discussions included spiritual topics, and they brought her a Bible.
Dwayne Staats, one of four inmates who is on trial and who is representing himself, asked May about her concerns in Building C. She said she had been fearful she would get killed at work, and that she and other counselors were concerned about safety and conditions - that Building C was going to "explode."
"This was something we were all talking about," May added.
Staats at one point told May that he was the one in her office, prompting an immediate objection from the state. He may get to reiterate that when he testifies later in the trial.
The jury also saw video of the conditions in which Lieutenant Steven Floyd was killed following the February 1st, 2017 inmate riot in Vaughn Prison's Building C. Delaware State Police Sergeant Jeffrey Smith described video he took the morning of February 2nd, several hours after Floyd's body was found lying in several inches of water and under mattresses in a trash-strewn office.
Smith's initial video shows Floyd's body before it had been removed. Later video also shows mounds of debris, charred clothing and foot lockers strewn about. Blood spatters are seen on walls, and blood was mixed with water on the floor in places.
Smith also documented blood stains on the exterior recreation yard in the video.
Three Delaware DOC employees who were also in the building at the time are relating their experiences. They hid in a basement during the riot, made their way to a roof and crawled their way to a ladder.
Shortly after Delaware Correctional Officer Brett Smith took the stand, May's voice would be heard in court again. Radio transmissions of the initial calls for help and subsequent negotiations were aired for the court. May at one point was given access to a radio and described conditions for those on the outside. They included Smith, who also is heard frequently negotiating with an inmate he believes was Royal Downs. Downs has pleaded guilty to a riot charge and is expected to testify.
Downs makes demands to be heard by Governor Carney and the news media in those transmissions. Smith frequently responds that he is working on it.
Smith later identifies another voice as Jarreau Ayers. Ayers, Staats, Roman Shankaras and Deric Forney are the first group of inmates to face trial in connection with the deadly prison riot.
A prison counselor and two responding correctional officers described for a jury Wednesday what they encountered at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center's Building C during an inmate riot and takeover 20 months ago that resulted in the death of Lieutenant Steven Floyd.
During the third day of the trial of four inmates charged with murder, counselor Patricia May described the events of February 1, 2017. It all started shortly after she arrived for work.
An inmate was granted permission by Floyd to meet with May in her office. As that meeting was going on, another inmate carrying a knife in his hand burst in. The inmate with whom she had been meeting quickly left.
The man with the knife, according to May, threatened to stab her if she did not do everything he demanded. She managed to knock her phone off the hook, which alerted a central operator that there was a problem.
May also observed a fight going on outside her office door window - before the intruding inmate tied her up by her hands and feet and put a hood over her head.
"That's when I emotionally freaked out," May said.
According to May, she was led out of her office and although a hood was still over her head she was able to see blood on the floor. She was led into a cell and forced to sit down on what appeared to be a locker box.
During all of this, May said she saw or smelled nothing but heard a lot of noise. "It sounded like things were being thrown against a wall," May said.
"I was scared to death," she added.
At one point, she was told to talk with a hostage negotiator, apparently over a radio, and briefly described what was going on.
According to May, the hood was removed from her head about 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. the following morning, and two or three men were in a cell with her. An armored response team rescued her, she believes, at about 5:15 p.m.
May was taken to a hospital, but said she was never assaulted. In fact, she said inmates occasionally told her that she was going to be OK.
May is expected back on the stand Thursday morning.
Earlier, Delaware correctional officers who responded to the riot talked about their their arrival.
DOC Lieutenant Charles Sennett was the first witness called by the state Wednesday. He was a shift commander and area supervisor at Vaughn Prison on the day the riot broke out, February 1st 2017.
Sennett described entering the building with three other responding officers. "I saw blood all over the floor," he told the court.
Sennett also spotted scattered locker boxes and a highly-unusual open door, but no other staff around. He also saw some smoke. And, he heard a voice come from a closet - the voice of Sergeant Steven Floyd, who shouted "they took over the building. It's a set-up."
Sennett left the building with the other responding officers to avoid the possibility of inmates gathering more hostages. They waited for further assistance.
Sennett said at one point he saw inmate Duane Staats scurrying from one place to another. Staats is one of the inmates on trial.
Staats, acting as his own attorney, asked Sennett about his mental state going into the building.
"Shaken," Sennett replied.
The attorney for inmate Deric Forney, Ben Gifford, questioned Sennett about Floyd's relationship with inmates. Sennett described it as a "decent rapport."
"It could have been anyone, I would be equally upset. I was very surprised it was Sergeant Floyd," Sennett added.
He also recalled that after the incident was over and Floyd was found dead, he asked an inmate a question.
Later, according to Sennett, officers received orders that they were not to have any further discussions with inmates about the incident.
Another responding officer, Jordan Peters, also described seeing blood spatters on the floor as he and others entered the building. He also described seeing a woman in a chair, tied up, with her head covered. She would turn out to be the prison counselor, Patricia May.
They were assaulted by inmates, handcuffed, and tossed into a dark closet together, as they listened to the screams of another officer who was being assaulted in a nearby closet.
Officers Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkinson took the stand Tuesday in the second trial of four inmates who are charged with murder and other offenses in connection with the incident 20 months ago at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
Smith said he rotated among prison buildings and was assigned to Building C that morning. He told jurors as he opened the door to let inmates in from outdoor recreation, he was punched in the face and struck with an object from behind.
After being handcuffed, he was thrown into a closet with Wilkinson. Wilkinson testified that he was swarmed by a group of 8 to 12 inmates.
"I remember hearing Sgt. Floyd screaming," Smith said. Also at one point, he heard the inmates tell him: "If you look at us, we'll kill you."
After a few hours passed, Smith was released by the inmates.
For Wilkinson, it was to be only his second full day in building C. He said during the ordeal in the closet, inmates would assault them and toss flaming objects at them, which he extinguished by rolling over.
Wilkinson was later allowed to leave; neither he nor Smith have returned to work since the riot. Both said they still suffer post-traumatic stress and from the effects of concussion.
Wilkinson and Smith were unable to identify any of their attackers because many of them wore masks.
Wilkinson's memory would also come into play under defense cross-examination. He was asked about a transcript of an interview with police on the day of the incident in which he said some inmates had issues with how Floyd treated them.
Wilkinson did not have a recollection of making those statements.
"Some guards have an ego problem, yes," he said in response to a question. Wilkinson added he never heard Floyd yell at anybody.
The day began with a description from a Delaware State Police investigator about ransacked rooms and cells and a smoky smell in Building C following the riot.
"Every room, every tier, every cell looked liked it was ransacked," Cpl. Roger Cresto said Tuesday in the second day of the trial in Superior Court.
Cresto described the methodology used in the collection of evidence, items of which were introduced and described. They included shanks fashioned out of toothbrushes, razor blades and--in one case--a shard of glass. Burnt knit caps were also found, at least one of which had two holes cut in it, apparently for seeing.
The significance of the items, which also included plastic mop wringer parts and handles, fire extinguishers, and a foot locker, will likely come up during the trial of Jarreau Ayers, Deric Forney, Roman Shankaras and Dwayne Staats. They are the first of 16 inmates to be tried on murder offenses. Two other inmates face charges in connection with the riot, but have not been charged with murder.
Ayers raised objections over the items of evidence, saying that many were not analyzed for DNA. His objection was overruled. Ayers and Staats are representing themselves.
During Monday's opening statements, the state indicated that correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd died of blunt force trauma injuries and stab wounds. He was attacked in a closet and found dead in several inches of water.
Twenty months after a hostage-taking and riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center resulted in the death of a correctional officer, the first four inmates who were charged in the case are going on trial.
Testimony began Monday in the trial of Jarreau Ayers, Deric Forney, Roman Shankaras and Dwayne Staats. A total of 18 inmates were charged for their alleged roles in the riot, which killed correctional officer, Lt. Steven Floyd.
In her opening statement, Deputy Attorney General Nichole Whetham Warner described the circumstances in Building C of the Vaughn Prison in February 1st, 2017--a day that "began like any other day."
A group of inmates took it over, "suddenly and violently," Warner said. "The attack was vicious, it was tragically effective, and it was planned."
According to Warner, Floyd opened a door to the prison yard where a number of inmates were taking part in recreation when a group of inmates wearing masks stormed the guards. Officers were attacked with mop wringers and shanks.
Floyd, Warner said, was stuffed into a mop closet while two other officers were locked into a supply closet. Floyd would later be heard warning other responding officers that it was "a trap," according to Warner.
Warner said the exact time of Floyd's death is not known, and that he died of the accumulation of blows and stabbings and not one particular incident. She said the state will contend that Ayers and Forney assaulted the officers, that Shankaras was the mastermind, or the "shot-caller," and that Staats also made some decisions and took part in the assaults. The state also plans to play audio of Staats, who in addition to being a suspect in the assaults, was involved in negotiations broadcast over radio and played at the time of the riot by WDEL.
Jason Antoine, the attorney for Shankaras, in his opening statement said his client was innocent and that Shankaras was in the yard at the time Floyd was killed. Antoine added that his client, while in the yard, was told by another inmate that previous discussion of was to be a peaceful demonstration regarding prison conditions was replaced with a plan of a violent overthrow.
"He didn't sign up for murder," Antoine said, who added that the riot had been planned by other inmates in protest of alleged inconsistent policies, mistreatment of inmates, and "a couple of bad apple guards in Building C."
"All my client wanted was to be treated with dignity." Antoine added.
Two of the initial group of four inmates, Staats and Ayers, are representing themselves.
Staats told jurors that inmates who would testify for the state are "opportunists," who would present "fabrications" and "exaggerations."
"At this moment, I'm presumed innocent," Staats said, asking the jurors to carry out "due process."
Ayers meanwhile, said that although the burden of proof is on the state,"I've got to fight for my innocence." He also implied that inmate witnesses are working with the state for their own benefit.
“I’m going to point out every single lie, every single contradiction, every time,” Ayers said.
Ben Gifford, Forney's attorney, also said the reliability of witness testimony will be an issue.
Opening statements lasted just under three hours. Trial is expected to last up to one month.
The first two state witnesses were Delaware State Police homicide investigators who responded after it was learned Floyd's body had been found. Sergeant David Weaver testified that interviews and other evidence helped investigators determine which of the inmates would face charges. Corporal Rodney Cresto described the evidence that was discovered: clothing, scraps of material, wringers, a mop handle, a broom handle, shanks, fire extinguishers - and blood.
Opening statements will get underway Monday morning in the murder trials of four inmates charged with the murder of a correctional officer at Smyrna's James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February of 2017.
Four of the 16 inmates who've been charged with the murder of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd are the first to head to trial at the New Castle County Court House in Wilmington.
Jarreau Ayers, Deric Forney, Roman Shankaras, and Dwayne Staats will be tried together; Ayers and Staats are representing themselves.
Inmates will continue to be tried in sets of four into early next year, court officials said.
Details on Floyd's death have not been previously divulged. It's unclear whether the Floyd family plans to attend the trial.
But Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps issued an email to his staff--that email obtained exclusively by WDEL--warned corrections officers who attend the trial that it won't be "easy to endure."
He also told them they're forbidden from wearing their uniforms or making outbursts in the court to not jeopardize the inmates' right to a fair trial. Phelps added:
"We should expect media scrutiny and heightened tensions within facilities," he wrote. "That said, I have no doubt we will get through this together."
Jury selection will get underway Monday morning in the murder trials of four inmates charged with the murder of a correctional officer at Smyrna's James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February of 2017.
Inmates Jarreau Ayers, Dwayne Staats, Roman Shankaras, and Deric Forney will be tried together. Ayers and Staats will be self-represented.
Trial is slated to begin October 22, 2018.
In an email exclusively obtained by WDEL, Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps alerted his staff to the beginning of the first in a series of trials related to the kidnapping and murder of Lt. Steven Floyd. Details on how Floyd died have not been previously divulged.
"I hope all DOC staff are taking necessary steps to become mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared," he urged. "We would be naive to think this process will be one which is pain-free and easy to endure."
He cautioned staff that the inmate defendants may criticize the DOC administration and staff.
"We should expect media scrutiny and heightened tensions within facilities," he wrote. "That said, I have no doubt we will get through this together."
For DOC employees looking to attend, Phelps warned it wouldn't be an "easy experience."
"It is your responsibility to maintain composure inside the courtroom. Outbursts and poor behavior in front of the judge and jury could potentially lead to a mistrial," he said. "Let's not take any chances."
Staff have been warned not to try this case in the press and not to publicly clarify misinformation; they've also been urged to refrain from making comments on their personal social media pages. Staff have also been warned that they cannot wear their uniforms in court.
"There is concern that a 'sea of blue' could deprive the defendants of their constitutional right to a fair trial," said Phelps. "As members of the law enforcement community, particularly when honoring a fallen friend and colleague, we have an obligation to preserve and defend the Constitutions and laws of the United States and Delaware."
Phelps also informed his staff that throughout the trial Floyd will be referred to as "sergeant" and not the lieutenant title he received posthumously.
"It is not a sign of disrespect; the court has a duty to use his rank at the time of his death," he advised.
For those who don't attend, working conditions may still become trying.
"The inmates in your supervision may misbehave more than usual, hoping to elicit a response. Rise above it. Rely on your training and conduct yourselves professionally as you do regularly in the performance of your duties," he said.
Phelps e-mail closed with him saying he's proud of the department and the determination of its employees.
"The upcoming trials will be a new experience for us all," he said. "We will continue to persevere in honor of Lt. Steven Floyd. One family, one team."
Staff seeking emotional or mental health assistance are urged to contact 1.800.343.2186.
DOC spokeswoman Jayme Gravell said no one was available to speak for this story at the time of the request. Correctional Officers Association of Delaware president Geoff Klopp didn't return a request for comment.
Trials will continue in groups of four through February of next year.
A total of 18 inmates were indicted; sixteen face first-degree murder charges in Floyd's death.
The trials could prove lengthy and costly for the state, as only one of the 18 defendants can be represented by a public defender. That means private attorneys must be hired to represent the other 17 inmates to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.
Mandatory overtime among tired and overworked correctional officers--a practice which costs the state millions and puts both COs and inmates at risk--remains the biggest challenge facing the Delaware Department of Correction (DDOC) in the wake of last year's inmate uprising that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead.
A final report by Claire DeMatteis, Esq., the special assistant assigned to the DDOC, was issued Tuesday, July 17, 2018--one day after prison officials announced they'd demolish Building C, where the rebellion took place.
In the 53-page report, she noted the issuance "does not mark the end of the DDOC's efforts to continue to strengthen its operations," though this would be the final public report.
"I am very confident in the commissioner and his team's commitment to continue this," said DeMatteis.
The report details the persistent overtime issue may not be resolved for another two years as enhanced recruiting efforts continue to fill hundreds of vacancies.
"Extensive overtime can take a toll on officers' mental and physical health, decrease job satisfaction, and increase officer attrition," DeMatteis wrote.
And though the DDOC is stronger than it was 18 months ago, when the riot occurred, she said problems remain.
"Officers continue to express concerns regarding: understaffing and the resulting need for mandatory overtime; improving communication up and down the chain of command; and, the need to rebuild trust," she wrote. "These concerns are real, and the DDOC must continue to address them."
WDEL has been unable to find correctional officers who are willing to speak on the record about the climate in JTVCC.
DeMatteis' recommendations coincide with a number of points made in an independent investigation. Released in September, that report by retired judge Hon. William L. Chapman Jr. and former Delaware Attorney General and U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III, found the main reasons for the uprising included inmate dissatisfaction, animosity and distrust between the inmates and correctional officers, as well as inconsistent management and a lack of communication in the building.
Eighteen inmates were indicted in Lt. Floyd's murder.
With hundreds of vacancies within the DDOC, Gov. John Carney said recruitment efforts, while expanded, have been difficult. The DDOC saw a sharp rise in retirements after a law passed enabling them to retire after 25 years of service instead of 30 years. The riot also led to an influx of retirements.
"It doesn't matter how many authorized positions you have, if you can't fill the position that you're authorized for, and we're in a position where we have those vacancies," he said. "It's a difficult challenge...and we have an incredibly tight labor market right now. We have an unemployment rate that's ticking under 4 percent, so there aren't as many folks available that are looking for work."
Over the last two years, DeMatteis' report noted that $62 million has been devoted to the DDOC to strengthen officer safety and training, recruit and retain officers by raising starting salaries to $43,000 in FY '19, while implementing a new career ladder, modernizing operations, and improving programs for inmates. The raising of salaries has made the state more competitive with surrounding states, but Carney said it's not a deal-closer.
"People can go to New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, it's not that far, and that's the reality of our recruitment in a very tight labor market," said Carney.
Current correctional officers are also given a $1,000 incentive to refer new recruits, Phelps said.
"We have to offer them something that makes them want to be here, and that something is the family environment that we have; the public service, the service to the people of the State of Delaware," said DDOC Commissioner Perry Phelps. "This is not a job that everyone wants to do, obviously, since we have the vacancies, and it's a job that some people just can't do. It takes a lot of different skills to do this job--interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, empathy...it's not just a matter of walking in the door, doing some push-ups, and putting on a badge...there has to be a passion for a person to do it for 30 years."
Information regarding retention rates wasn't readily available, but Phelps said just one in 10 cadets make it from the application process to graduation.
"So the universe of people that you have to start with at the beginning of the pipeline is a much bigger number than what you end up with in a class and ultimately filling the slots that we're talking about," said the governor. "In a tight labor market, you have these conditions, be it drug tests or whatever, that wash people out, so it's very difficult," said Carney.
Over the last 12 months, the DDOC has hired 183 new officers with an additional 53 recruits currently enrolled in the basic training class that will graduate in August.
"Some of the things we do it's almost like planting a seed; I have to plant it this month, and it's going to take a few months before I can cultivate it and bring it to harvest," said Phelps.
A staffing analysis shows the DDOC needs to add 137 more officers to be at "optimum performance" and safely supervise the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center's 2,210 offenders. Over the course of last year, taxpayers have paid for $31 million in officer overtime.
DeMatteis' report credited the DDOC for partnering with Wilmington University on a six-hour training course for all correctional officers, who'll learn de-escalation tactics, cultural competency, and enhanced communication skills.
More than 1,200 correctional officers completed the mandatory training earlier this year. Hundreds more officers also received supervisory management and leadership training.
Other measures focused on officer safety that have been implemented include:
Added less-than-lethal weapons and defensive gear for officers' safety;
Created JTVCC staff recognition program;
Created mandatory mentorship by experienced correctional officers for new correctional officers;
Conducting performance reviews and feedback sessions for correctional officers;
More strictly tracking correctional officers weapon certification and training requirements;
Reinvigorated K9 program by putting teams back inside the facility and working with correctional officers on various shifts;
Increasing correctional officers' accountability for all equipment at JTVCC.
A More Modern Facility
Modernizing its facilities and providing improved communications systems was another goal outlined by the review. Building C had no working cameras to assist hostage negotiators during the two-day uprising. Since, JTVCC has installed hundreds of cameras, six-months ahead of schedule, the reported noted.
"The cameras...will provide real-time, actionable intelligence for the first time since JTVCC was constructed in 1971."
By the end of the year, a new intelligence operations center will also be operational.
"The commissioner's senior leadership team, correctional supervisors, and officers have made intelligence-gathering and intelligence-sharing a priority to improve communication and minimize the risk of concerted inmate action against officers or other inmates," the report stated.
Improved Services for Inmates
The report also included a host of actions taken by prison officials to improve programs and services for inmates, including job skills training, GED classes, increased visitation access, and expanded access to technology and wifi.
"The privilege of being granted access to tablets will help incentivize positive behavior by inmates. In turn, the educational and recreational opportunities the tablets provide for inmates are expected to assist officers in keeping the facility safe and secure."
The Inmate Advisory Council, established by Warden Dana Metzger, now also holds formal monthly meetings to foster conversations between prison officials and inmates.
The report included excerpts from letters from inmates, DeMatteis said were unsolicited, that show a more positive picture behind bars.
''Among the more positive initiatives you have made since coming into office none has I believe been more beneficial than your promotion of contact between yourself (and senior staff) directly with inmates. This is a culture change of such significance that no one among the inmate population can fail to be aware of it and be persuaded of the genuine desire to foster communication throughout the community. Men who feel they have a voice and are heard are much less prone to frustration and resentment which may manifest itself in antisocial and destructive behaviors...
...This new informality from senior staff is noticeable by all and so much different from the 'bad old days' that it creates an a/together different and less stressful/confrontational environment than that which formerly prevailed. I appreciate that all senior staff (not least yourself) must have a plethora of duties and tasks (and meetings!) to undertake. But making time to be seen and available direct to the inmate population is one of the best investments of your precious time that can be made and I commend you for the wisdom shown in making this not only a priority of your own but clearly one you are actively encouraging with the rest of your staff...
...The introduction and commitment to regular meetings of the Inmate Advisory Council is proving an evident success as another means of communication which has been welcomed throughout the inmate population. Of course, 'Rome was not built in a day' and the task of structural institutional culture change you are embarked upon will inevitably be a slow process but I believe most inmates are now persuaded that it is a sure one and that what has begun so well will eventually see fruition in a far different and improved experience - not only for inmates but hopefully for officers too. So, many are greatly encouraged - and I hope you and your staff are as well."
WDEL has been unable to independently confirm inmates' thoughts or feelings on the culture behind bars at Vaughn.
In May, DeMatteis stressed the need to improve inmate sick call procedures.
Carney said he's confident Vaughn is a safer place, but cautioned:
"I don't think you can ever let your guard down," said Carney. "That's why it's important that we stay focused on communication, intelligence gathering, staffing requirements and any indication that something might be brewing as was happening prior to Feb. of 2017."
"It's not one of those things, it's something that you always have to work on. It's like any team, an effective team works on that culture, that chemistry, and it changes because new people come in, and people leave, and new leadership...so it's never something that you say, 'We'll we've got it now.' You've always got to work on it."
Phelps added improved communications have thwarted other potential incidents.
"We immediately look into it; we put a plan into place to stop it, and the communications are better. Are they optimum, like we would like? Probably not. But are we working towards that end? Yes."
A chart included in the final report detailed how the DDOC addressed the 41 recommendations made by the independent review team. It showed that the DDOC has implemented assessment and recommendations issued by independent consultants from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. It also noted an internal working group will continue to address these recommendations and make necessary health care improvements.
The full report is included below. Readers can track progress made on each recommendation by the independent review team:
A building on the grounds of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, where a two-day riot resulted in a correctional officer being killed, will be demolished.
The Delaware Department of Correction announced the decision Monday, July 16, 2018--one day before a final report on the prison uprising is due to be released.
Lt. Steven Floyd was killed in the February 1-2, 2017, revolt in Building C, where inmates held him and other correctional officers hostage.
Gov. John Carney said removal of the building will help Vaughn workers move forward. He called it "the right thing to do."
”Department of Correction officers and supervisors who went to work on February 1, 2017, or assisted in the response, have been reminded on a daily basis of the horrifying actions that happened on that day,” said Carney in a statement. “The building is a constant reminder of the senseless, brutal murder of one of one of DOC’s dedicated public servants--Lieutenant Floyd."
DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps called the demolition a sign of the new culture he's working to cultivate within the prison system.
“The presence of C Building at JTVCC only serves as a constant reminder of the tragedy that occurred on February 1, 2017 that senselessly took the life of one of our family members” said Phelps in a written statement. “Demolishing the building will serve as a point forward in the healing process and enable the staff at JTVCC to become stronger and stronger as each new day passes.”
Building C, which was constructed in 1971 as part of the original Level V correctional facility, has been vacant since the uprising. All inmates were moved to other facilities.
Demolition is expected to begin this fall with funding approved in the FY'19 bond bill.
The first inmate to file a civil rights lawsuit against the Delaware Department of Correction following last year's fatal uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center claimed he and other inmates were "terrorized" in the days after the riot, in what amounted to "torture."
In federal court documents obtained by WDEL, Donald Parkell, who claimed to be in Building C at the time Lt. Steven Floyd was killed, said inmates were beaten after the riot at the orders of Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps, then-Warden David Pierce--who's since been reassigned--and others.
"Rather than protect Plaintiff and the class of inmate victims following their re-taking of Building C, the Defendants punished them by beatings, torture, destruction of heir property, deprivation of medical, psychiatric, and dental care, and placing them in solitary confinement with no opportunity to be heard," an answering brief filed on February 6, 2018 claimed. "Following the re-take, [Deputy Warden Phil] Parker and Phelps formed teams of officers to terrorize and torture inmates in retaliation for the uprising."
Parkell is now being represented by court-appointed Wilmington attorney James S. Green Sr. The lawsuit offers a glimpse of what may have happened during and after the takeover--details state officials haven't provided.
"For several weeks, they were deprived of bed sheets, pillows, a lot of their property was taken, we believe, destroyed," said Green in an interview with WDEL. "They didn't have medical treatment."
The brief, filed in response to the state's Motion to Dismiss, claims "only discovery will reveal the facts behind this tragic failure and who is responsible."
Parkell, who's serving a prison sentence for burglary, claimed he was in a medium security unit housed in Building C, which also contained some of the state's most violent offenders. In court documents, he claims that he and two other inmates, Michael Carello and Tyreek Downing, were also taken hostage, but protected counselor Patricia May, who was among several staffers taken hostage in the prison overthrow.
Green said his client was not among those who were brutally beaten after the overthrow.
"An officer who, ironically, instructed the other guards not to beat those three because they were helpful to Miss May, which raises the question: why would you--code red, why would you have to order somebody not to beat somebody?" asked Green.
He said what was described to him would be classified as torture.
"Many of them were brutally beaten during the retake by the 'rescuers,' if you will," said Green. "They were zip-tied with their hands behind their back and made to lie down, face down on the ground, and then according to several people I've talked to, beaten or kneed in the back or kicked."
"Following orders from Pierce, Parker, and Phelps, other inmate hostages were restrained and beaten by the rescue team and many were seriously injured," the brief said.
Letters from inmates that emerged months after the riots that were obtained by WDEL detail similar abuses and corroborate Parkell's claims.
"It's beyond what a correctional institution should be doing...it's frightening," said Green.
Green previously served as a state prosecutor and prosecuted inmates tied to a riot at the Smyrna prison in the seventies. He said it's clear not much has changed in the prison culture.
"I think it's gone on for a long, long time," he said. "I think it's gotten worse."
After the beatings, Green said Parkell was placed, mostly, in solitary confinement for more than a year, until he was transferred out-of-state on January 19, 2018. In the brief, Parkell also complained of reduced food rations and a loss of personal property. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he claimed was worsened by his time in the SHU.
"It's still a lot of time to be by yourself to think about what you've seen, and what you've heard, and what you've gone through," said Green.
Parkell's lawsuit asks the court to allow the lawsuit to move forward with discovery, so they can determine who gave the alleged order to beat inmates after the riot.
His lawsuit also cited the findings of an independent report, ordered by the governor after the uprising, which contributed to the uprising, including a lack of cameras, understaffed facilities that relied too heavily on overtime, and a lack of correctional officer training.
"More basic is why weren't the warnings heeded? Lt. Floyd himself said get some of these guys out of there...people that I believe were put in there on purpose to cause a problem," said Green.
"The complaint alleges that Pierce, Parker, Phelps, and Coupe intentionally inflicted unreasonable, unnecessary, and unjustified physical and emotional pain and suffering on Plaintiff."
"The complaint alleges that their reckless indifference to the safety and humane treatment at JTVCC was the cause of the attack and takeover of Building C," the brief said.
Eighteen inmates were indicted in October of 2017 in connection with the fatal hostage takeover; sixteen of them have been charged with murder. Parkell, Carello, and Downing were not among the inmates named in the lawsuit.
The Delaware Department of Correction had no comment, citing pending litigation.
Dover attorney Steve Hampton is working on organizing a class-action lawsuit regarding inmates' abuses as well.
Green said he's glad his client has been transferred. Though its more difficult logistically to visit his client, he said being out of Delaware's DOC makes things much easier for them on the whole.
"They made the visits very difficult for us; they shackled him and chained him to a wall on several occasions," he said. "My impression is that they don't like lawyers messing in their business and they don't like inmates who stand up for their rights."
He said legal papers were also confiscated from his client and never returned.
Green hopes that Parkell's lawsuit leads to better conditions for inmates.
"They did something wrong, they should pay a price...the price is loss of freedom," said Green. "But torture and abuse and humiliation is not part of that, that's medieval, it's Abu Ghraib, that's the kind of picture that comes out of that place."
A darkened sky and steady downpour accentuated the mood during a memorial for Lieutenant Steven R. Floyd in Smyrna Sunday.
The tone was heavy and somber as multiple individuals ranging from government leaders, Department of Corrections officials, fellow officers, and a priest spoke took turns speaking during the ceremony.
Governor John Carney and Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps spoke at the memorial, where Floyd's end of watch plaque was unveiled.
Lt. Floyd, posthumously promoted, was one of four correctional officers held hostage, beaten, and tortured on February 1, 2017.
Carney addressed the correctional officers.
"You are your brothers' keeper," said Carney. "It was not until Lieutenant Floyd's death that the rest of us truly understood what it meant to be a correctional officer--to really understand what it means to face danger every day, all day long."
The governor spoke to the conviction of the current governing body in working to support the department.
"I can't imagine what it's like for all of you when you go through those doors everyday," said Carney. "I hope you know that we hear you. We're with you. We have your back--and that we're doing everything to support you."
Phelps spoke to the memory of the day that the uprising occurred.
"February 1, 2017, was supposed to be the best day of my life--the highlight of my career in corrections. I was supposed to be sworn in as commissioner. However, just like the rest of you, I will remember it for the tragedy that it was," said Phelps.
The commissioner also spoke to Floyd's time as a union representative and acknowledged that Lt. Floyd was an outspoken advocate for change within the department.
"We will never forget Steven's ultimate sacrifice. We must commit ourselves to his legacy of service," said Phelps. "We must always strive to be better tomorrow than we are today."
At the conclusion of a bagpipes rendition of 'Amazing Grace' and the remembrance of Lt. Floyd's life and service, the plaque dedicated to his memory was unveiled. It read:
"Sgt. Steven R. Floyd, SR.-- End of Watch February 2, 2017."
Nearly one year after inmates at the Vaughn Prison took hostages and began a riot that led to the death of correctional officer Steven Floyd, an interim report has been released on progress being made in the prison system and what's left to accomplish.
An independent review ordered by Governor John Carney came up with 41 recommendations that were released last September. Since then, the Governor's special assistant to the Department of Correction Claire DeMatteis has been leading the initiative along with Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps.
Their interim report indicates that there is renewed focus on communication among officers and their supervisors as well as the inmate population. An Inmates' Advisory Council and a Correctional Officers' Advisory Council have been established. Officers are receiving additional training in communication, leadership and de-escalation of situations. Installation of dozens of cameras at the Vaughn Prison is also underway.
"The governor wants the public to see that the department is being accountable and is making changes," DeMatteis said.
Correctional Officers Association of Delaware President Geoff Klopp agreed that progress had been made, but staffing remains a significant issue. He said about 100 fewer correctional officers are on the job now compared to a year ago, even after the state and the union reached agreement on a pay increase.
"We do the best job we can but with less staff it continues to be harder and harder," Klopp said. According to Klopp, correctional officers continue to work "incredible amounts of overtime."
"We are serious about implementing the recommendations of the independent review and improving safety and security across our correctional system," Governor John Carney said in a statement. "We have more work ahead of us. Making lasting change won't happen in a few short months. But , as this report indicates, we are making progress."
A follow-up report on the state's progress will be released this summer.
A federal judge says a Delaware inmate charged in a deadly prison riot this year is entitled to a court-appointed lawyer in an earlier lawsuit accusing prison workers of using excessive force against him several years ago.
Wednesday's order came after Pedro Chairez told the judge that he himself was a hostage during February's revolt, and that he lost the legal materials related to his civil suit when inmates' property was destroyed after the riot.
Chairez is one of 18 inmates charged in the February riot and hostage-taking, during which a correctional officer was killed.
Chairez's lawsuit claims that prison guards used excessive force against him three times in 2011. According to court papers, Chairez acknowledged disobeying orders because he was unhappy about being transferred to Delaware from Arizona.
The Delaware Department of Correction has settled a lawsuit brought by family of a deceased correctional officer and six other guards injured in a riot in February of 2017.
Eleven claimants will share $7.55 million, paid by the state to settle via mediation the workers' compensation and other disputed claims in the suit, according to a release issued late Friday afternoon. A package of employment-related benefits is also included in the settlement.
All claims asserted against individuals defendants have been dismissed.
The DOC, state, and officials admit no wrongdoing as part of this settlement, and it is specified the settlement is made while the claims of the suit remain disputed. The settlement also does not reflect the plaintiffs claims were in any way unfounded, the release announced.
“My hope is this settlement provides some measure of relief to the officers, employees and families involved,” said Governor John Carney, in a written statement. "As a state, we remain committed to taking all appropriate action to improve safety and security across Delaware’s correctional facilities. We owe that to the memory of Lieutenant [Steven] Floyd."
Those involved in the riot itself, and those impacted beyond the walls, now turn to emotional and physical healing," the announcement said, and the settlement avoids the "burden and expense that comes with protracted litigation."
"Each of the injured parties and their families wishes to thank the general public, the members of the COAD Union, the Delaware and Maryland State Troopers and other law enforcement officers on the scene on February 1st and 2nd, 2017, first responders, and the media for their support," the plaintiffs said in a statement issued with the settlement announcement.
Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware also had no comment.
Tom Neuberger and Tom Crumplar, attorneys for the correctional officers and the Floyd Family, had no comment and added the victims and their families won't be commenting anytime soon.
Six inmates have pleaded not guilty in connection with a fatal Delaware prison uprising that occurred earlier this year.
The Office of the Delaware Attorney General says six of the 18 inmates who have been indicted pleaded not guilty Tuesday. All six demanded a jury trial.
Authorities say the inmates took four hostages at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna in February. Sixteen are charged with first-degree murder in the death of Lt. Steven Floyd, a corrections officer.
The trial into the riot could prove to be long and costly for the state, as only one of the 18 defendants can be represented by a public defender. That means private attorneys must be hired to represent the other 17 inmates to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.
A total of 18 indictments were announced by the Delaware Department of Justice on Tuesday for the death of Department of Correction Lieutenant Steven Floyd, during a violent kidnapping and stand-off at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, in Smyrna, earlier this year.
The named defendants---who had remained incarcerated since the revolt, which stretched across two days on February 1 and 2 in 2017---have been processed on the indictments, Justice Department officials revealed Tuesday.
The indictments were delivered on Monday, October 16, 2017, but were initially sealed in order that necessary security precautions would be satisfied within correctional facilities.
Those indicted for the murder of Correctional Officer Steven Floyd, injuries to Correctional Officers Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkinson, and the kidnapping of counselor Patricia May, were:
Jarreau Ayers, 36 – currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and other charges
Abednego Baynes, 25 – currently serving 18 years for second-degree murder
Kevin Berry, 27 – currently serving 14 years for three counts of first-degree robbery and other charges
John Bramble, 28 – currently serving 40 years for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, second-degree assault, possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, possession of ammunition by a person prohibited, and home invasion
Abdul-Haqq El-Qadeer, aka Louis Sierra, 31 – currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder
Deric Forney, 28 – currently serving 11 years for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a person prohibited and drug charges
Kelly Gibbs, 29 – currently serving 24 years 9 month sentence for second-degree murder
Robert Hernandez, 36 – an inmate from New Mexico serving a 16-year sentence for second-degree murder in that state
Janiis Mathis, 25 – currently serving 15 years for second-degree assault and other charges
Lawrence Michaels, 31 – currently serving 19 years for first-degree kidnapping, first-degree attempted robbery, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and other charges
Obadiah Miller, 25 – currently serving 10 years for manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony
Jonatan Rodriguez, 25 – currently serving 40 years for manslaughter and other charges
Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz, 27 - currently serving 40 years for manslaughter and other charges
Roman Shankaras, 30 – currently serving 7 years for riot and two counts of first-degree robbery
Corey Smith, 32 – currently serving 14 years for a violation of probation for possession of a deadly weapon by a person prohibited, violation of probation for carrying a concealed deadly weapon, first-degree attempted robbery, second-degree assault, promoting prison contraband
Dwayne Staats, 35 – currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder
The indictment said those men did intentionally cause the death of Sergeant Steven Floyd.
Each of the 16 individuals face the following counts: three counts of first-degree murder (intentional murder, felony murder, and recklessly causing death of a correctional officer); two counts of first-degree assault (a count each regarding C.O. Smith and C. O. Wilkinson); four counts of first-degree kidnapping (a count each for Lt. Floyd, C.O. Smith, C.O. Wilkinson and counselor May); one count of riot; and one count of second-degree conspiracy (for conspiring to commit riot).
The indictment said those men engaged in "fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center with the intent to commit or facilitate the commission of an assault on Sgt. Steven Floyd" and COs Smith and Wilkinson.
The Delaware Attorney General's Office also disclosed two additional indictments:
Pedro Chairez, 42 - an inmate from Arizona serving a 43-year sentence for second-degree murder and other charges committed in that state
Royal Downs, 52 – an inmate from Maryland serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and other charges committed in that state
Both Chairez and Downs were each charged with: four counts of first-degree kidnapping (a count each for Lt. Floyd, C.O. Smith, C.O. Wilkinson and counselor May); one count of riot; and one count of second-degree conspiracy (for conspiring to commit Riot).
Details of Floyd's murder weren't disclosed in the indictment, but it accused the men of inflicting "physical injury upon him or to us[ing] him as a shield or a hostage or to terroriz[ing] him or a third party and...not voluntarily releas[ing] him unharmed and in a safe place prior to trial."
An independent review determined chronic understaffing as well as a toxic culture led to the riot.
"This was an extremely important and time-consuming investigation that involved unique challenges." Attorney General Denn admitted, in a statement. "I appreciate the police and prosecutors’ focus on ensuring that justice is done for the victims in this case and their families."
Correctional officers of Delaware Union President Geoff Klopp called it the first step towards achieving justice in an interview with WDEL.
"We are thankful that the process is beginning to move forward...it definitely gives correctional officers a little better feeling and we're going to continue to be the professionals that we are, and we're one step further in the right direction in this terrible tragedy," said Klopp.
Gov. Carney, who expressed disappointment four months ago that charges weren't filed, agreed.
“It is my hope that these indictments announced on Tuesday will be a step toward justice for Lieutenant Floyd and provide some measure of peace for his family, and all of the victims of the events on February 1 and February 2,” said Governor Carney in a written statement. “As we have said since February, we will remain focused on taking action necessary to improve safety and security inside James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, and across Delaware's correctional facility."
DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps wasn't available for comment.
"The DOC is grateful for the tireless and challenging work performed by the State Police and Department of Justice. We will support the criminal justice process as it moves forward and are hopeful justice will be brought to the Floyd family and the victims of February 1 and 2," said DOC Deputy Commissioner Alan Grinstead.
Delaware's Level V facilities are on a modified lockdown with additional security measures in place due to the arrest and arraignment of the individuals. Inmate phone calls will be disabled and inmate visitation has been canceled.
The final report on the findings of an independent investigation into a riot at a Smyrna prison which left one correctional officer dead and several brutally beaten was issued to the public Friday by Gov. John Carny.
Carney requested retired judge Hon. William L. Chapman Jr. and former Delaware Attorney General and U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III, to investigate the circumstances at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center overnight on February 1 and 2, 2017, which led to C-Building being overthrown by violent inmates--and the death of Lt. Steven Floyd. They were thorough in their approach.
"[T]he Independent Review Team conducted interviews with correctional, educational, mental health and medical staff, including correctional supervisors, JTVCC administrators, and Delaware Department of Correction (DOC) executive administrators past and present. The Team also reviewed numerous letters from inmates and family members, spoke with community and inmates’ rights groups, and interviewed other agency representatives. The Independent Review Team also visited the JTVCC, including the C-Building, observed grievance proceedings, and spoke with inmates individually and in focus groups. The Team also conducted in depth research through review and analysis of policy, training and other departmental documentation; open source media searches; and identification and gap analysis of national corrections and behavioral health best and promising practices," the report reads.
Carney thanks the men involved for their service, and said he hoped the report would lead to "real, lasting change" within the prison system.
"Thank you to Judge Chapman and former U.S. Attorney Oberly for their hard work on this Independent Review," Carney said. "This much is clear: we have systemic issues within our correctional system that must be addressed, and we are committed to addressing them. We’ve already made progress, but there is more work ahead of us. In the coming days, we will review these final recommendations in more detail. And we will take appropriate action that will continue to improve safety and security for officers and inmates inside our facilities. As I said in June when we received the initial report of the Independent Review, we owe that to Lieutenant Floyd and all of the victims of the February 1 incident."
The report noted some restraints caused by the criminal investigations happening at the same time by the Delaware State Police and DOC Internal Affairs, and certain details were withheld to ensure those investigations weren't compromised.
The report also led with some good news, listing off steps the state had taken to address security concerns in the wake of the riot, including new organizational flow among head of different DOC and prison-focused departments, new individuals in a variety of those positions--like a new warden at Vaughn--and budgetary increases for the state that would allow for the hiring of more officers, more pay for officers, and new technological investments to increase protections for both officers and prisoners.
The most direct reason for the uprising, according to the report, was what inmates perceived to be inaction regarding earlier grievances. Interviews conducted by the team revealed inconsistent management, lack of communication within the building, animosity and distrust between the inmates and guards and guards and management, a pervasive sense of negativity throughout the facility, the unique make-up of a mix of "medium-high" security inmates, and the lack of using intel gained from within the building that could have mitigated the circumstances leading up to the revolt. Inmates found they weren't discouraged from further protestations following a lack of disciplinary actions when a subset of prisoners acted out on January 15, 2017, the report said.
Floyd was one of the officers who had attempted to inform supervisors that the inmates involved in the January 15 incident should be removed--even temporarily--from C-Building due to security concerns.
"Some other supervisors supported the effort, but based on an email written by the warden, it appears that some JTVCC administrators believed that the inmates’ disciplinary records did not support their transfer to the Security Housing Unit (SHU)."
Correctional officers drifted through shifts, only falling back on getting "through their shift safely so they could go home," without any uniform understanding of what was expected from each of them during their time on duty, the report said. This lack of guidance was indicative of the greater disjointed or lacking leadership throughout the organization.
“The culture of respect was not there. We knew this was going to happen," the report said it heard during commentary regarding why the events of February 1 happened. “Some groups of officers feel empowered to be vulgar, provocative and harassing to inmates.”
New recommendations for fostering a more positive culture between inmates and staff included instituting a recognition and reward system, rewriting job descriptions to let staff know what is required of them in their positions, discontinue the use of issuing rule revisions verbally or via email. Staff should also be required to sign a form acknowledging they've read the policy and procedure manuals and know what's expected of them, the report issued, manuals which should undergo annual revisions and updating.
Meanwhile, staff feels undervalued and dehumanized, suffering from burn-out and long-term, untreated stress. They have symptoms ranging from emotional, cognitive, and physical exhaustion, in large part due to excessive overtime and a complete lack of work-life balance.
Recommendations new to this report for those findings included reducing overtime and limiting the number of overtime hours per week for each officer, evaluation of timekeeping practices to ensure they adhere to state and federal labor laws, and compelling participation for debriefings following incidents for all officers whether they were involved or not, and safety and wellness training for COs on a regular basis.
Officer should now receive higher levels of training, according to the report, and the organization should implement more "in the seat" training and less online training.
The DOC was called upon to conduct its own investigation and assess the health care--both physical and mental--being provided at Vaughn, review behavioral health contracts and substance abuse treatment programs to find opportunities for "cognitive behavioral interventions" to be included, and develop a reward and privileges system for inmates to encourage positive behavior.
"Throughout this independent review process, JTVCC staff recounted numerous instances wherein prison management failed to act to prevent, defuse, or address concerns raised regarding by correctional staff regarding potentially dangerous inmates and unprofessional staff. The Independent Review Team also heard complaints from focus groups and individual interviews with, and letters written by, inmates, advocates, and attorneys. A review of policy coupled with information gathered from JTVCC staff and inmates, points to procedural inconsistencies, the use of shaming tactics and verbal and physical abuse at the hands of some correctional officers, lack of programming and adequate medical care, and an ineffective grievance system. Left unattended, these issues will continue to provide a fertile ground for violent incidents in the JTVCC."
The full report, including a portion containing letters from prisoners, is included below:
In July 2017, lawyers representing the state and its former governors requested a federal judge drop the civil lawsuit brought against them by correctional officers or the COs' surviving family members following a deadly siege at a Delaware prison in February.
On Monday, Attorney Thomas Neuberger filed an answering brief responding to that request. Neuberger represents the family of Lt. Steven Floyd, who was killed at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center during the overnight riot between February 1 and 2, 2017, along with correctional officers Winslow Smith, Joshua Wilkinson, Cpl. Justin Tuxward, Cpl. Matthew McCall, and Cpl. Owen Hammond.
“The most compelling evidence of defendants’ conscious disregard and deliberate indifference is revealed by looking at what their successor did," the response reads. "The speed with which the newly elected and current Governor of Delaware and his new appointees at DOC and OMB worked in conjunction with COAD, notified the General Assembly and immediately acted to address and fix the problems is compelling evidence of what defendants should have done and the ease by which it could have been done. Indeed, Governor Carney did more in five short months to fix the DOC than defendants did in 16 long years.”
The suit brought by Neuberger and his represented targets former governors Jack Markell and Ruth Ann Minner specifically, along with a number of other individuals, the state itself, and the Department of Correction.
"I believe that we have conclusively proven the guilt of Governor Markell and the blood is on his hands for the torture and death of Lt. Floyd," Neuberger said in an emailed statement.
A major argument of the suit points fingers at poor staffing levels, resulting in fatigued guards working dangerously excessive levels of overtime. This, in combination with a population of increasingly violent offenders due to a move of prisoners under Markell's watch into Building C, where the siege took place, directly led to the overthrowing of Building C and the death of Lt. Steven Floyd, the lawsuit contends.
"The State signed a contract with the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware Union, wherein it contractually bound itself to 'provide sufficient staffing to ensure a safe and secure work environment. This answers the defense claim they had no duty to provide a safe workplace for CO’s," Neuberger said in an email, and, during a follow-up call, added, "[Markell] had an order that...90 vacancies were to be kept at all times at the Vaughn prison. The few people that were available simply couldn't control the place."
Current Gov. John Carney said an independent review of the events that took place inside the prison during the riot would be released publicly on September 1, 2017, so Neuberger's response bookends a week when more new information about the incident could possibly be released.
Neuberger sets the stage by claiming problems started back when Minner was governor, and her decisions broke a system that continued to deteriorate under the cloak of a second governor and several DOC commissioners overseeing the department who not only failed to remedy the lacking requirements that would create an environment in which COs could work safely, but that those lacking standards were intentionally hidden from the General Assembly.
“The Fourteenth Amendment standard of review requires an ‘exact analysis’ of the ‘totality of facts.’ Ours is a substantive due process play containing many scenes and acts, but one which cannot be properly understood unless viewed as part of the larger scenario of the overall story," the filing reads. "This is a story about public officials whose actions and policies over 16 long years destroyed the DCC. For the last 13 of those years, they ignored repeated warnings of where their new policies would lead and instead doubled down and plowed ahead. Thus this story is a tragedy, because the end was avoidable. When such extended opportunities to do better are teamed with protracted failure even to care, such indifference is truly shocking.”
The full response is available below:
Corrections Department spokesperson Jayme Gravell said as a matter of policy the Department does not comment on pending litigation.
Nine staffers at Vaughn have been suspended as part of an investigation.
The Delaware Department of Correction is investigating whether proper procedure was followed during the transport of an inmate from his housing unit to the infirmary, a spokeswoman said.
"This is a personnel investigation, and we are not able to share further details about the incident at this time. DOC takes seriously any alleged incidents of misconduct and reported incidents are thoroughly investigated," said spokeswoman Jayme Gravell.
The July 31, 2017 incident comes after a nearly two-day siege when prisoners took over, holding employees hostage. Correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd was killed.
A grand jury indictment is expected sometime within the next three months in the case.
It's been six months since the fatal riot at the James T. Vaughn prison in Smyrna and charges could be coming in the next few months.
The Delaware Department of Justice said a a grand jury will likely convene to consider an indictment in the next 90 days.
Lt. Steven Floyd was killed in the two-day siege in February.
"This investigation presents unique challenges, not the least of which is the fact that many witnesses are themselves incarcerated inmates," DOJ spokesman Carl Kanefsky told WDEL. "On behalf of Lt. Floyd and his colleagues, a thorough, complete, and professional investigation is of paramount importance so those responsible for these crimes may be held accountable."
The circumstances surrounding Floyd's death remain a secret. In a lawsuit, Floyd's widow claims not even she's been told how her husband died. Several correctional officers and Delaware Department of Correction employees who were held hostage are also a part of the lawsuit.
Both the lawsuit and an independent review cited understaffing and a lack of cameras as partially to blame for the riot.
The attorneys representing former Delaware Governors Jack Markell, Ruth Ann Minner, and other former and current state officials, have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd, who was killed earlier this year in the prison uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
Attorneys for the state filed court papers last week that argue there's no constitutional right to workplace safety and that the defendants are immune from liability because they didn't violate a clearly established right, according to the Associated Press.
The attorney representing the family, Tom Crumplar of Jacobs & Crumplar PA, said "the matter is before the court" and relayed what they're planning to say in their reply.
"Well, it is basically to say that we have not established a cause of action under federal law, but we think their arguments are without merit. We'll be filing our response in August, and we will point out that they ignored the 'Cassie Arnold Case,' which is a very similar case to our case, in fact we mentioned it in our case," explained Crumplar. "Judge Farnan, who was the chief judge of our federal district court, rejected similar arguments and ruled in favor of another correctional officer, she was a counselor who had been raped, the basic same legal theory, and that decision has never been overturned, it's still good law."
"There were also two other times that the first circuit, which is the circuit that governs in our area, ruled and rejected their arguments, and they didn't even mention that so we think they're wrong on the law," Crumplar said. "They even claimed that they were legislators, these people with the Department of Corrections, the budget office, that's civics 101. You have three branches of government executive, legislative, and judicial. We are suing people who are within the executive branch, and I think anyone knows they're not legislators. We are not concerned about this motion."
Crumplar said he expects the matter will be before the judge this September, and a decision regarding the matter should be sometime around the end of this year, early next year.
The lawsuit claims Floyd's death could have been avoided if either of the aforementioned governors would have staffed the ranks of correctional officers to a safe and appropriate level. Floyd's widow and his three adult children are seeking damages for his "unnecessary death and suffering," while separate awards are sought by the five surviving officers for their "physical, emotional, and mental injuries," ongoing suffering, and economic losses.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report
Delaware's fundamental prison problem, according to the ACLU of Delaware, is that there are too many people behind bars, and according to its findings, the state's high incarceration rate comes at a cost.
The American Civil Liberties Union hosted a forum in Wilmington Wednesday to present initial findings of its joint research project with the Prisoners' Legal Advocacy Network, which is administered by the Delaware - New Jersey Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. The session came just days after the state released an initial report of an independent review of the Vaughn Prison and circumstances that led to the February inmate uprising that killed Correctional Officer Lieutenant Steven Floyd.
Delaware's rate of incarceration is higher than the U.S. average and is the highest in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, according to national ACLU Prison Project Director David Fathi. This, he said, has also populated Delaware's prisons substantially beyond capacity, compromising safety behind bars.
"It's also fiscally expensive," Fathi said. "But having made the political choice to have a very high level of incarceration, Delaware will have to bear the cost of doing so in a safe, humane and constitutional manner."
"When Delaware's incarceration rate is over 700 per 100,000 and New Jersey's is about 400 per 100,000 you have to ask why," ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Kathleen MacRae said. "There's no reason, for our public safety, that we have to incarcerate at that level."
In a summary, PLAN said "rhetoric in the aftermath of the Vaughn incident has been overly divisive and politicized," and that much of it was not supported by hard data and was not directed toward identifying or resolving issues that led to the February incident. Presenters also referred to an increase in the number of letters received by the ACLU about the conditions that faced inmates at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.
It's been more than four months since a fatal riot killed an officer inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, and Governor John Carney said he's disappointed no criminal charges have been filed.
"I have not talked to the state police...I didn't think it was appropriate," he said.
Those comments were made Tuesday at Legislative Hall, where he unveiled his response plan in light of an independent review he'd ordered into the fatal uprising, the findings of which were released last week.
Later, through a spokesman, Carney clarified remarks, saying he had a briefing last week from Delaware State Police Col. Nate McQueen, but had not spoken, personally, to investigators.
The most important issues, Carney said, revolve around staffing and compensation for correctional officers, who are notoriously underpaid compared to neighboring states. The starting salary for an incoming correctional officer is $29,000; many have worked the job for decades and still receive an annual salary less than $50,000.
Since the February 1 uprising that killed Lt. Steven Floyd, the Delaware Department of Correction's staffing shortage has worsened, with additional correctional officers quitting or putting in for early retirement.
"The biggest numbers will be in the compensation and staffing area, but again, you've got 100 vacancies right now--you can add 100 more, but if you're not filling the ones you've got, it doesn't matter," he said. "It's going to cost us more money, but we have to do it."
The low staffing levels force officers to be "frozen" in place, working excessive overtime at a cost of millions. The report found that the practice additionally has the added draw back of negatively affects officers' morale.
"We have to do a better job compensating our correctional officers so we can recruit more to fill these vacancies," he said. "We're going to have to pay them better and create better conditions."
Negotiations between the state and the correctional officers' union regarding compensation are ongoing.
"It sounds good, but I don’t know how we make it through the summer," said Correctional Officers Association of Delaware President Geoff Klopp. "I have tremendous fear over the next six months in the facilities."
Attorney Tom Neuberger, who is representing the Floyd family--as well as two correctional officers and three maintenance personnel who were held hostage during the takeover--expressed doubt the governor would be able to raise salaries in any significant way for correctional officers, given the current budget deficit. He said, instead, the governor should use his powers of pardon and clemency, as well as the processes of probation and parole, to reduce the number of non-violent offenders behind bars.
"If the money is not there for a secure prison system on July 1, the governor, by executive action, should decrease the prison population so there is a safe ratio of COs to violent prisoners," said Neuberger. "Send non-violent inmates home to their families and community and put enough officers in Vaughn to control the gangs and killers who took the life of Lt. Steven Floyd."
Carney is also seeking to add more accountability within the Department of Correction.
"We will commit to a report back, publicly, at a six-month interval and a year, to show the progress that we're making or not making--this is an important one for some of our correctional officers who are of the view that we get these recommendations and then we just don't do anything to follow-up," said Carney. "So people know how are we doing, so if we're not doing very well--which is a possibility, probably a high possibility, given what we're talking about, then our feet will be held to the fire."
He'd like to appoint a special assistant to the DOC commissioner, who would be responsible for spearheading reforms and implementing a change in culture; he envisions that person coming from the outside.
"To really drive the management practice side of this and to report, periodically, on the progress that's being made," said Carney. "There's a lot of concern about communication from leadership up at the top through middle management down to correctional officers on the front line, and then, improving training for standard operating procedures and other aspects of the job for correctional officers.
Carney will also ask the General Assembly for $2 million to purchase cameras. No cameras were in Building C at the time of the hostage takeover. Cameras that are present within the Department of Correction's various facilities were also found to be inadequate or malfunctioning, according to independent reviewers. It's unclear how far $2 million could go to improve technology needs within Vaughn given the lack of cameras and cloud space.
The governor acknowledged that many of the reviewers' recommendations have been made before and fell on deaf ears.
"Judge me on the results...the proof is in the pudding."
A preliminary report on the ongoing independent review of conditions that led to the fatal inmate uprising at the Vaughn Prison four months ago included valuable views of inmates as well as correctional staff, according to one of the review's team leaders.
Regarding inmates who had input as part of the review process, former Delaware US Attorney Charles Oberly said "there was a uniformity in saying they want consistency in the enforcement."
Little to keep the inmates occupied was another issue: "the lack of programs, the inability of these inmates to do anything other than stand around hours at a time."
The report mentions suspected gang members in the prison, but Oberly declined to give details or names of suspected gangs.
The review also covers several concerns raised in a report 12 years ago regarding staffing shortages and general working conditions that face correctional officers.
"This is a problem the legislature needs to deal with, but at the same time the legislature is facing a $400-million deficit," Oberly added.
Governor John Carney said he is reviewing recommendations contained in the preliminary report, and said in a statement that "we will take the report seriously. It will not collect dust on a shelf."
"We are committed to taking appropriate action that will enhance safety and security for Delaware's correctional officers and inmates at Vaughn and at all of Delaware's correctional officers and inmates at Vaughn and at all of Delaware's correctional facilities," the Governor continued. "We owe that to Lieutenant Floyd and all the victims of the February 1 incident."
Also Friday, the attorney representing the family of Lieutenant Steven Floyd in a lawsuit against the state said the report confirms that "Vaughn is broken and the DOC is in crisis," but added that it is not a surprise. Attorney Thomas C. Crumplar in a statement also said the report makes it clear that the crisis at Vaughn is so extreme that "the staff can no longer effectively fulfill their mission and are reduced to simply trying to survive and make it home each day."
"I pray that a Delaware Governor will finally take this crisis seriously and fix our long broken DOC," Crumplar added in the statement.
An archaic way of conducting business inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC) near Smyrna may have led to a deadly February uprising, according to a highly-anticipated report issued Friday.
"We are trying to do 2017 corrections in a 1972 facility," wrote retired Judge William L. Chapman and former U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly, III, in their independently conducted report on the 15-hour rebellion which left a correctional officer dead.
The 50-page report, ordered by Governor John Carney, was delivered June 1, 2017, and found morale within the Delaware Department of Correction (DOC) was at its lowest point in 30 years. The reviewers admitted they faced unique challenges given an ongoing Delaware State Police criminal investigation and an internal Delaware Department of Correction investigation being conducted simultaneously.
"This act of aggression and violence by Vaughn inmates is criminal, and the murder of Lieutenant Steven Floyd is an enormous loss--not only to his family and loved ones but to the Department of Correction, and the entire State of Delaware," wrote the reviewers.
The report found that many that many correctional officers were solely concerned with getting through the day safely and had no other sense of purpose or greater mission in their job.
"Not one officer could provide a consistent response when asked what was expected of them as an employee of the DOC. Supervisors also described inconsistency in how they supervised staff at the JTVCC, as well as inconsistency throughout the organization."
It was a flaw inmates expressed noticing as well.
"These patterns of operation and management have led to a sense of chaos where 'getting through the day' becomes the norm rather than actually achieving a purpose. In this environment, most everyone—administrators, supervisors, and line staff—end up 'doing their own thing' rather than following a clear and unified plan or strategy."
The report also determined that JTVCC is "critically understaffed" and the more overtime is used to fill shifts, the greater the increase in burnout and apathy among correctional officers; low pay and lack of raises also don't help, the reviewers found.
WDEL previously reported on the excessive overtime worked by correctional officers, which union officials have complained are the result of budgetary choices that cost the state $39 million--a practice the reviewers have called "risky."
The report found officers commonly working 16-hour shifts and being "frozen in place" sometimes as often as five times per week.
"JTVCC staff are burned out as a result of long-term untreated stress, as well as emotional, cognitive, and physical exhaustion, stemming in large part from the excessive overtime that is being worked," the report said. "Although overtime is voluntary, the overtime requirements are so excessive that correctional officers report routinely missing out on important family events due to being 'frozen' at the end of their shift or being denied vacation time even when a request is put in 'six months in advance.' This level of work intrusion into correctional officers' personal lives has eliminated any sense of work-life balance with significant impacts on their individual, and most probably their family’s mental health and wellness."
The report also found that many correctional officers may be going through depression or anxiety tied to the death of their colleague, Floyd.
"An officer whose capabilities, judgment, and behavior is adversely affected by poor physical or psychological health may not only be a danger to her or himself, but also to other officers, inmates, and to the community."
Many correctional officers expressed to reviewers they don't feel trained well enough to do their jobs effectively. Many said they received no field training at all, but were immediately assigned to JTVCC.
"It is likely that the current training curriculum is inadequate for the challenging conditions of the JTVCC, and that new recruits need additional on-the-job training in basic jail operations," said the reviewers.
COs felt the CERT team receives better training because they're considered the "diamonds of the department," which led many to feel inadequate and unappreciated, the report noted.
"When staff see attention, perks, and praise focused primarily on specialized units, it sends the message that they are less important, less valued, and command a lower priority within the facility."
That devalued feeling eventually evolves to create a demoralizing culture which, in practice, becomes a motto the reviewers referred to as "a breathing body is better than no body at all."
"Correctional staff at the JTVCC feel undervalued and dehumanized, which seem to have significantly impacted their mental health and overall wellness. There is ample evidence of burnout throughout the rank and file."
This burnout is evidenced by the high number of correctional officers who have quit or put in for early retirement since Floyd's murder. The reviewers also pointed to an organized "sickout," first reported by WDEL, as further evidence. These factors combine to create even greater staffing issues in an already buckling system.
The reviewers also found problems with the DOC's decision to mix different classifications of inmates inside Building C. Those problems are compounded with a breakdown of communication between supervisors and upper management.
"Supervisors believe that there is an adversarial relationship between upper management and them; an 'us against them' mentality," the report said. "Some supervisors feel micro-managed and some are afraid to make decisions, while others are slow to respond to issues. The clear disconnect between JTVCC administrators and supervisors negatively impacts the implementation of policies and procedures, as well as undermines the day to day operations and security of the facility.
Among key recommendations: breaking the code of silence and bridging the gap between ranks.
"There is a clear peer expectation that officers will keep what happens behind the prison wall out of the public eye. The JTVCC needs to address the code of silence issues with its middle level management. Line officers appear to be communicating concerns to mid-level management, but upper management is not receiving the information. Majors and Deputy Wardens at JTVCC should be more accessible to the line staff. For example, administrators could hold 'line staff only' town hall meetings and should routinely walk the compound and engage officers on shift."
Concerns first voiced by Commissioner Perry Phelps in a rare state Senate hearing in Wilmington, citing that inmates have too much dangerous "idle time," were also reiterated in the report.
"Inmate rehab doesn’t happen here. Promoting inmate development and discipline doesn’t happen. They have too much idle time and the ACLU/CLASI agreement took [our] ability to discipline away.”
Finally, communication and technology were reportedly found to be severely lacking behind bars. The report said several buildings, including Building C--where the riot occurred--lack any cameras, and few even have audio capability; other cameras are incapable of storing footage for more than 15 days, while some don't even have recording capabilities. Reviewers said the lack of cameras in Building C likely perpetuated the riot.
"Responding to the tragic events on February 1st and 2nd was made even more difficult because there are no cameras inside C-Building. While cameras may not have prevented the incident from occurring, they could have had a deterrent effect and could have provided additional information for post incident investigations had they been installed inside the housing unit. Had the cameras been equipped with microphones, they could have enabled officials to listen to the events as they transpired even if the inmates covered the camera lenses.
In conclusion, the report found fixing "its people" would go a long way to improve the culture within the Delaware Department of Correction.
"Officers are not doing their jobs because they are fearful, apathetic or feel no one cares about them. We need to fix our people by caring for them, proper training, enforcing policy, and holding [staff] accountable.”
The report said if its recommendations aren't enacted--many of which fell on deaf ears in a 2005 report--a repeat of the fatal riot that killed Floyd could occur again.
"The long-standing issues within the facility, if left unattended, will continue provide fertile ground for chaos and violence in the facility," said the reviewers. "The recommendations contained in this report, if implemented, have the potential to transform the JTVCC, and lives of those who live and work in the facility."
Conduct a comprehensive staffing study to identify proper staffing levels at the JTVCC.
Update and implement a practical fatigue/stress policy that accounts for work-life balance.
Create a promotional career ladder with competitive salaries, and merit-based recognition.
The DOC Commissioner should develop a detailed strategic plan and implementation process for the Delaware DOC
DOC should hold a one-day conference or similar event to discuss the future of corrections in Delaware.
The DOC should use the strategic plan and implementation process to inform policies, procedures, and operations; security; budgeting; executive, mid-level and staff training; infrastructure, inmate programming, and services.
DOC executive leadership should endeavor to build and maintain strong relationships with correctional officers and administrative personnel.
Prioritize achievement of American Correctional Association (ACA) accreditation at the JTVCC.
Ensure training topics and hours meet national corrections standards and include real world scenarios.
Provide refresher and specialized training, such as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and leadership training, on an annual basis.
Retaliation. Poor working conditions. A lack of human respect--those are just some of the problems detailed as having plagued Delaware's prisons for decades.
State Senator Bobby Marshall (D-Wilmington) said reports dating back to the 1970s and 80s show consistent problems within the prison system.
"It's striking that if you redacted the years...you'd think that the reports written in the seventies and eighties were written in May of 2017," said Marshall, in a rare state Senate Labor Committee hearing Monday at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington. "It is a failure of the culture, a crisis within corrections...and we need to do more, we need to take a serious look at it."
In his first public comments since the inmate uprising in February that left Correctional Officer Steven Floyd dead inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Commissioner Perry Phelps said the problems are societal.
"It has to do with the way we treat our citizens...and until we treat the underlying issues and whatever's going on there, the Department of Correction is a microcosm of the communities--that's what we have here--and the issues today will be today as they will be tomorrow unless we take a serious look at what we're doing and address it the way it should be addressed.
Phelps said he hopes the results of three ongoing investigations into the circumstances and events that led to the inmate uprising will help the department identify those issues. But he added, corrections is only one piece of the puzzle that is the complex criminal justice system.
"We need all three parts to work together. I'm not finger-pointing--I'm responsible for corrections, and that's all we'll talk about--[but] I think we need to look at the real issues, if we want to make some real change, and that's everything from the way we treat our officers to the way we treat our inmates to the way we do treatment for inmates--everything."
The commissioner said they need the community's help to prevent recidivism.
"I can teach a man or a woman all the job trades in the world, when they hit that door and they hit society, if they can't find a place to live, if they can't get a job, if they don't have an income and they can't get assistance--I mean who needs more assistance than a person that was just incarcerated?"
"We send an inmate through our system...they may have a specific job skill and then we release them to the street and we tell the people on the street hire these individuals...but we look at state law, and Delaware Department of Correction won't hire them. Now how silly is that?"
But inmates are seeing less opportunities behind bars that prepare them for life after prison. Phelps testified that a $1 million culinary arts center in Vaughn isn't being used due to staffing levels being so low, and it's leading to a volatile climate behind bars.
"Idleness is the devil's workshop," said Phelps. "While these men and women are sitting around twiddling heir thumbs--they have nothing else to do--all kinds of thoughts come in their mind...maybe they wouldn't think of otherwise if they had a focus or an opportunity, something to make them feel valued as a human being."
The Reverend Chris Bullock, president and founder of the Delaware Coalition for Prison Reform and Justice, advocated for mandatory skills training for available jobs in Delaware, the establishment of a hiring bank of employers who will hire formerly incarcerated people with incentives for those businesses. He mentioned requiring inmates to get a GED through partnerships with either the University of Delaware, Delaware Tech, or Wilmington University, as well as starting up partnerships with the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce that includes classes on entrepreneurship or running and managing your own businesses.
"I believe very inmate has an opportunity to be an asset to the community--not a liability--once he or she is released," said Bullock.
Until staffing levels are beefed up, programs like the ones Bullock proposed and the existing culinary arts and automotive can't be reinstated.
The department anticipated 78 correctional officers would retire this calendar year under new guidelines that went into effect allowing retirements after 25 years of service; even more were lost to early retirements after the Vaughn rebellion.
With 24/7 staffing needs, Phelps said overtime is unavoidable and has always been a part of the staffing plan.
"When I started out as a correctional officer, I got frozen in place, I didn't like it; I hated every second of it."
But it's still happening today, and every day. While correctional officers have their freedom, they often can't leave the prison to go home to their families at the time their work day is expected to end, and the department spends millions in overtime annually.
"Some of them spend more time [at Vaughn] then they do at home given how much overtime [they work]," said former Vaughn Warden David Pierce, who was relieved of his duties in March, nearly two months after the uprising.
"One-hundred [positions] would go a long way towards shoring things up, especially in James T. Vaughn," said Phelps without his staffing analysis numbers in-hand.
Those 100 positions would be, he hoped, in addition to the 75 already ordered by Gov. John Carney in response to the riot.
But before the department can ever attract and retain staff, Phelps said correctional officers need livable wages.
"I don't know what the magic number is, but I know it's not enough--what they receive right now--and I'm also under no illusion that the state has a bottomless pit of money, but I think that they do deserve a fair, livable wage where they do not have to work so much overtime to make ends meet."
The Correctional Officers Association of Delaware (COAD) president Geoff Klopp testified that he's been with the department for 29 years and makes just $49,000 a year--the same starting salary as a Milford police officer.
"Until we bring the correctional officers' salary to a true salary that is competitive and will keep people in a career and not a puppy mill, we will not do anything to address the problem," said Klopp.
But compensation is only one piece of it. Phelps said there needs to be a culture change too.
"When we don't value our correctional officers, our counselors...when we don't treat them and expect them with what they deserve, then they feel undervalued and under appreciated, and of course, the compensation may be a part of it, but the way we treat them and the way we show our respect for them also goes a long way in retention," Phelps said.
At a past hearing, correctional officers spoke of retaliation if they complained about treatment or conditions on the job, further stressing the need for a culture change.
Pierce testified he was unaware of disciplinary measures taken against supervisors for retaliatory conduct when he was warden.
"I do not recall any substantiated investigation of such allegations," said Pierce.
"This happens; it's for real; it's not addressed, but again, the reason why this happens is because the Department of Correction has been broken for so long, and you have people in supervisory positions and other departments they wouldn't be there--but yes, it happens, and even if you went a grievance more times than not, you will be retaliated against," said Klopp.
"Cultures of employees sometimes are the problem; leadership may be the problem, the old way of doing things may be the problem, and we need to step out, go outside the box...and try something new," said Marshall.
Delcollo said it's clear the state has ignored funding the proper staffing for prisons for years.
"If we're going to be asking taxpayers to pay a whole bunch of money and raising everyone's taxes then we have to put some kind of plan in place to make sure things are better going forward...and move forward in a way that has a direct focus on keeping funding to our central services where it should be," said Republican state Sen. Anthony Delcollo.
Staffing challenges also prevent officers from undergoing mandatory training in conflict resolution and interpersonal communication. The department requires about 40 hours of training, but state Sen. Nicole Poore called that hardly an investment in people.
"I would think that's a low number for helping to work with the population, de-escalation, it's an investment right? The tragedy that we recently faced is not something any of us want to repeat," said Poore.
Bullock said he's received hundreds of letters, detailing abuse, since the uprising.
"I know that there is abuse and torture going on in the system because I've heard from correctional officers, I've heard from those who were formally incarcerated who were just released months ago," said Bullock. "Those who are persecuted need to be prosecuted."
Phelps also testified about a need for improved technology, including better communications, radios, and cameras across the prison system.
"We do not have enough building cameras, we could use more [in Vaughn]," said Phelps.
He also wants to implement community-style policing behind bars when staffing levels improve.
"That human element--what we call management by walking around...what that means is you get out and you talk to your staff, talk to your inmates, you find out what the issues are, you try to address them while they're small and we communicate in such a manner, where we're respectful to everyone," said Phelps.
"If the resources are not available for whatever reason, then you do the best job you can do with what you have--and I believe that's what we've been doing, and sometimes your best is not good enough," said Phelps.
To that point, AFSCME Local 81 executive director Mike Begatto testified: "We can't continue to run government the way it's been run: 'If it costs money we can't do it.'"
One of two judges selected by Delaware Governor John Carney to head an independent investigation into the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center riot that resulted in the death of a prison guard has recused himself.
Former Delaware Supreme Court Justice Henry duPont Ridgely has recused himself, as his sister-in-law has been named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit brought against state officials by the estate of Lt. Steven Floyd.
Ann Visalli, related to Ridgely, was also the former budget director for the state, and is one of the officials whose actions directly led to Floyd's death, according to the lawsuit.
"When I accepted your appointment in February, I had no knowledge or expectation that a member of my family would be named personally as a Defendant in any litigation to the hostage incident" Ridgely said in a letter to the governor, released Friday. "With this new development, I have re-evaluated whether it is appropriate for me to remain as a member of the Independent Team in these circumstances."
In Ridgely's stead, Carney has appointed former U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware Charles M. Oberly III.
"I am honored that Governor Carney has asked me to take on this important role," said Oberly. "The tragic events of February 1 must be thoroughly investigated to help ensure the future safety of Delaware correctional officers and properly identify the causes that gave rise to the incident."
The Independent Review Team was launched by Carney's signing of Executive Order Two in February. Oberly's appointment was a logical replacement for Ridgely, the governor said.
"I want to thank Justice Ridgely for his service, and I have full confidence that Charlie is the right person to step in and work with Judge Chapman on this important review," said Carney. "A former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General of the State of Delaware, he has the experience and independence necessary to help produce a set of serious, actionable recommendations."
The new Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner announced his first appointment Tuesday, filling the role of deputy commissioner.
According to a release announcing the decision, Commissioner Perry Phelps named Alan Grinstead as Deputy Commissioner.
"Alan’s 28 years of experience in the Bureau of Community Corrections will help our concentrated reentry efforts and ensure the Department continues its mission of providing rehabilitation to offenders in our custody," Phelps said. "I am honored to have him serve beside me in this role as we work together to move the DOC forward."
Most recently the Bureau Chief of Community Corrections, Grinstead was also Deputy Bureau Chief, Director of Probation and Parole, and a probation and parole officer himself, following his graduation from the University of Delaware.
Saundra Floyd, the widow of Lt. Steven Floyd, wiped tears from her eyes standing alongside her attorneys Tuesday as they announced the filing of a federal lawsuit against two former governors and the Delaware Department of Correction in connection with the fatal February inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.
Former Governors Ruth Ann Minner and Jack Markell are to blame for creating the conditions that led to the revolt, attorney Thomas Neuberger said; they initiated and kept policies in place for 16 years that favored overtime for current officers over adequate staffing levels required to safely guard the state's prisons.
"Instead, they spent up to $23 million a year forcing understaffed officers to work 16-hour shifts--overtime--to save money at the expense of putting their lives at risk at the hands of violent offenders," said Neuberger.
He further alleged that the use of overtime prisons and lack of staffing was deliberately hidden from members of the General Assembly.
"They never knew what was going on," said Neuberger.
The suit is brought by Saundra Floyd, the widow of Lt. Steven Floyd, who was killed during the riot, and two surviving officers, Joshua Wilkinson and Winslow "Win" Smith, both of whom were tortured and beaten for hours during the ordeal. Additionally, three maintenance workers--Corporals Justin Tuxward, Matthew McCall, and Owen Hammond--who apparently tried to save Floyd, but were locked in the basement by inmates, are also named as plaintiffs.
"Governors Ruth Ann Minner and Markell were derelict in their duties, and they're seeking compensatory damages," he said.
Current Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps, Former Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Carl Danburg; Ann Visalli, former Office of Management and Budget Director and her deputy Brian Maxwell, and Homeland Security and Public Safety Secretary Robert Coupe were also named in the lawsuit.
Governor John Carney was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but the suit does specifically name him as one of the reasons the hostage situation was extended for a greater period of time.
"The Warden at DCC had given the go ahead to retake the building and rescue Sgt. Floyd and all the other hostages before their lives were further endangered.
"The Governor instead intervened, overruled the Warden and halted the rescue attempt, for presently unknown reasons. The Governor's actions were a violation of all DCC emergency preparedness, training, policies and procedures governing the rescue of hostages, which placed the rescue attempt in the hands of the Warden who was trained for quick thinking in such an emergency," the complaint alleged.
"The DCC Warden then was enraged that the Governor had intervened and put the lives of Sgt. Floyd and the other hostages at greater risk," the complaint said.
Jon Starkey, a spokesman for the governor, expressly denied the allegations in the complaint.
"Any allegation that the Governor intervened in rescue attempts and overruled the Warden or the Commissioner of the Department of Correction is false," said the Starkey in an e-mail. "The hostage negotiations were conducted by trained professionals from the Department of Correction and Delaware State Police. The Governor trusted his law enforcement team on the ground to make decisions on how best to respond throughout the incident. Those decisions led to the rescue of three correctional employees. Tragically, Lieutenant Floyd lost his life."
In the wake of the riot, Neuberger said his clients aren't doing well. One of them, Joshua Wilkinson, was too distraught to attend Tuesday's news conference.
"They're subject to constant flashbacks, nightmares, terror, insomnia, PTSD," said Neuberger.
"Lieutenant Floyd was the epitome of a public servant," said attorney Tom Crumplar. " Their actions over 16 years have deprived Lt. Floyd of his life....their actions have deprived the CO Smith, Wilkinson...of their liberty and the injuries they suffered and sustained will permanently affect their pursuit of happiness.
Neither Saundra Floyd, nor Smith or the maintenance workers spoke publicly Tuesday.
"They've been forced to do this; it may be a hard and long struggle, but they are prepared to see it through," said Crumplar, who indicated the suit could take years before it reaches a jury.
Through her attorneys, Floyd has said she still hasn't received her husband's autopsy report.
"The governor has ignored that request...a basic human kindness; Governor Carney has refused to do that," he said.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction to have the autopsy report handed over to Saundra Floyd, privately.
Building C wasn't equipped with the necessary technology that could have saved Floyd's life, Crumplar added.
"None of us can walk into a Target, a Walmart...without seeing security cameras, but in the very building where Lt. Floyd lost his life, how many cameras do you think there were at that building?" he asked. "Zero."
Neuberger said the lynchpin of their lawsuit rests in the 2004 violent rape of Cassie Arnold by an inmate inside Vaughn prison.
"What did the governor do? The governor said let's find some disinterested and respected judges and let's do a study and let's see what we can do to prevent it from happening again," alleged Neuberger. "Two of our very distinguished judges concluded that Minner had to hire more correctional officers to ensure safety in the system; that Minner had to stop this abusive overtime...that they had to start doing searches for weapons. But did Minner follow this disinterested advise? No, she just passed it on to her successor Governor Markell...under his reign there still were not enough officers to search for weapons."
"You can't go through an airport without being searched. You would think that searching prisoners for weapons would be a daily occurrence at the prison...it was at one time, but because of budget cuts, they eliminated the daily search, and they started doing it once a month--but they didn't even have the personnel to do it once a month."
Neuberger said it's those findings that leave him with little hope an independent investigation into the Vaughn uprising will yield different results this time.
"I have absolutely no hope for the independent investigation," he said. "They will conclude again that you've got to stop forcing these men to work 16-hour shifts; they'll conclude that searches weren't being done for weapons, and we expect that the governor will ignore it."
To his end, Carney has said he's committed to making meaningful change in the state's prisons to ensure the safety of officers and that will see through the results of the independent investigation he ordered.
Minner told WDEL sister station WXDE that she had not yet seen the lawsuit. WDEL has been unable to reach Markell for comment. The Delaware Department of Correction said it can't comment on pending litigation.
"Commissioner Phelps is working hand-in-hand with Governor Carney and members of the General Assembly to further ensure the safety and security of DOC facilities," said spokeswoman Jayme Gravell.
The estate of a correctional officer killed during a violent prisoner uprising at Smyrna's James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, and five officers held hostage and brutally beaten during the ordeal, announced publicly the details of a lawsuit against former Delaware Governors Jack Markell and Ruth Ann Minner, among others.
The complaint, filed by the Neuberger Firm on behalf of the widow and surviving members of Lt. Steven Floyd's family, and five officers who "survived torture, death threats, and beatings," and the hands of inmates during the uprising, alleges "for 16 years, it was policy for these two Governors not to employ enough officers to safely run Delaware prisons."
During that time, the suit alleges $23 million was spent on forcing COs to work 16-hour overtime shifts, in opposition to hiring more bodies.
"These policies were hidden from the Delaware General Assembly and its elected representatives," the firm alleged in a released statement.
An incident from 2005, under the watch of Minner, was highlighted as evidence of officials awareness that changes were necessary. A rapist serving 660 years was able to rape a civilian female counselor before being killed by SWAT members as he tried to stab her with a shank.
At the time, investigators looking into the incident came to the conclusion that more officers were needed for a safer environment, the suit alleged, but those hires never happened under the administration of Minner or Markell.
Winslow Smith is here. He's the hero who got burning blanket off Joshua Wilkinson--who couldn't be here b/c it's "too much for him." #netDEpic.twitter.com/nObOvSlbol
The uprising was a direct result of Governors Markell and Minner lack of action, who were "derelict" in duties to keep prisons safe, Neuberger said at a press conference Tuesday. Under Markell, the suit alleged, overtime swelled to 800,000 hours, and he ordered there be 90 vacant positions at all times.
With the overwhleming presence of security camera technology almost everywhere, there was no surveillance cameras in Building C, a section of a maximum security prison, Neuberger said. It is impossible to go through an airport without being searched, but the daily search of prisoners wasn't taking place, he said. All of those factors lead to a deadly trap on February 1, 2017, he said.
Floyd, an Army veteran, "gave his life warning fellow officers not to enter an inmate trap" when "100 inmates took control of Building C" at the Vaughn maximum security prison for over 18 hours. Officers Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkerson were tortured for hours during that time, and a rescue attempt by Officers Justin Tuxward, Matt McCall, and Owen Hammond failed, but all five managed to survive.
Neuberger says for 16 years, #Delaware did not employ enough officers to safely run prisons, savings $$ at expense of lives. #NetDE
All of this would have been avoidable, the suit alleged, if either of the aforementioned governors would have staffed the ranks of correctional officers to a safe and appropriate level.
Damages are being sought for Floyd's widow and his three adult children for his "unnecessary death and suffering," while separate awards are sought by the five surviving officers for their "physical, emotional, and mental injuries," ongoing suffering, and economic losses.
Three weeks of silence--no phone calls or mail came in or went out of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna after the fatal uprising that killed Lt. Steven Floyd.
Following the fatal uprising, the Delaware Department of Correction went into a strict lockdown during which time inmates said they were not granted access to the telephone, writing utensils, or even regular showers.
Towards the end of February, the first letters from inmates following the fatal inmate uprising began to pour into the WDEL newsroom; in those letters, inmates said they've been brutally beaten and denied basic human rights, including medical care, since the riot.
WDEL received dozens of letters from prisoners following the Vaughn riot. Here, we'll share what the prisoners have alleged happened, in their own words. Note: Names and SBI numbers have been redacted to protect prisoners' identities out of fear of retaliation.
Dover attorney Steve Hampton got the letters too. Stacks of them.
"It's over 100, I'm sure," he said. "I'm still getting four or five every day."
Hampton said the letters are consistent in their horrific descriptions of both the riot, during which many inmates claim to have been hostages, and the events that occurred afterwards, as officials breached the prison and regained control.
"They thought they were going to be rescued," detailed Hampton. "Instead of being rescued, they were pretty much brutalized by--whether it was police or correctional officers that came in--whoever came in ended up zip-tying their wrists with the ties very tightly, and their legs, so they ended up, essentially being hogtied, and then they were beaten and kicked, and verbally abused."
Many of the prisoners claimed in their letters that they'd been left outside for more than an hour, mostly unclothed, in the middle of February.
"They've talked of some really, pretty poor living conditions in the SHU--no food or cold food--reduced portions," said Hampton.
In one of the letters, a mother said her son lost 27 lbs. since the riot.
"Offenders receive nutritionally sound meals as approved by the contracted nutritionist," said DOC spokeswoman Chelsea Hicks in an email. "Additionally, meals are provided in accordance with the meal schedule; of which includes both hot and cold meals. That said, some lunch meals may consist of cold sandwiches (e.g. bologna); however, the menu includes a plethora of meals that are served hot."
But that's no reassurance for Hampton, who plans to take on the Delaware Department of Correction--something he's done numerous times previously--on behalf of inmates.
"I guess, part of the fact is, that nobody else is doing it," he said. "If there were...others doing this and pushing the administration to correct these things, then I wouldn't feel like I need to do it, but I do have a feeling that if I don't nobody's going to push it."
The conditions in Vaughn have never been good, Hampton said, but they've since gotten far worse.
"The problems I've been complaining about for 10, 12 years are still there. They weren't going around in a concerted fashion beating them up and shocking them so I would say yes, day-to-day, the conditions have gotten a lot worse than they were before," he said. "I mean there were some legitimate complaints they had about crowding and how they were being treated by particular officers but they weren't complaints of being brutalized every day, which almost seems to be the complaint now."
Inmates have also alleged Correctional Emergency Response Teams, known as CERT teams, have raided prison cells, spraying pepper spray under the door, and assaulted inmates during shakedowns.
"Sometimes shocking them with a shield," said Hampton, referring to an electrified riot shield weapon used by the correctional officers. "They've been doing that for no reason other than apparently, they can..it's supposed to be something you use in a riot if you have to, not something you do when you're taking a guy out of a cell who's not resisting."
"A lot of stories of being strip searched, being verbally abused and harassed...and additional threats, often, they are told things that: 'This is because of what happened, this is because of Floyd, this is because of what you did. Who's in charge now?'--just a litany of abuse towards the inmates."
"We have an inmate, complaining that after he, I guess, got his hand broken early on, it took forever to get some type of a cast or a splint on it, and then when the CERT team came in, they took it, he said, so it's just a matter of frustration day in and day out," he said.
Hampton harkens back to the case of Vaughn inmate, Anthony Pierce, who he said DOC officials knowingly allowed a small tumor to grow as large as his head.
"They called him the brother with two heads--that's how horrendous it was, and until they finally got him to a doctor and got him to a surgeon, they weren't able to save his life, and the surgeons I got said, 'Yeah, if we got it early, we could've fixed it,' said Hampton. "And I thought to myself: if this doesn't cause them to change things, nothing ever will, and they didn't change anything. So if that didn't do it, I don't know."
Inmates have told Hampton that they've filed grievances that have also been ignored.
The Delaware Department of Correction refused an interview request with WDEL for this story. They also refused a Freedom of Information request for a docket of grievances, evidence of any backlog, and information on how they're resolved, citing those records are exempt.
In an e-mail, a DOC spokeswoman said sick calls are being addressed.
"Sick call requests are picked up by medical personnel seven days a week and time stamped upon receipt. Sick call requests are to be triaged by a Registered Nurse within 24 hours of receipt. Similar to a person in the community scheduling a doctor's appointment, requests to be seen are scheduled in order of importance, and emergencies are prioritized," said Hicks.
Hampton said he's still in the process of compiling information for the class-action lawsuit he intends to file, but a settlement will require consistent rules for use of force and enforcement of those rules.
"Right now, there are rules...and they're violating all of them," alleged Hampton.
"When the Department of Correction employees are allowed to around beating people and throwing their property out--they're doing a lot of the same things that got these inmates in prison in the first place, so, why are we tolerating that type of behavior in one group--who's supposed to be following the law? And not tolerating it at all with inmates?" asked Hampton. "It's treating the criminals by acting criminally toward them."
In response to the allegations, officials representing the prison categorically denied them, saying they're highly trained in the DOC's Use of Force policy, and only use force when necessary.
"Inmates at JTVCC are not being beaten by correctional officers," said Hicks in an e-mail. "There are occasions when an inmate's behavior warrants physical contact; however, our officers are trained in accordance with the DOC Use of Force policy. Under such policy, officers employ the least amount of physical contact necessary to appropriately deescalate a situation."
Hampton said he's skeptical of DOC's alleged behavior, calling it counterproductive, given that they need inmates' help to complete several ongoing investigations into Floyd's death and the circumstances surrounding the riot.
"I'm not sure how easy it's going to be for them to investigate with the brutality they've shown the inmates since this has happened, I'm not sure why any of them would want to cooperate with the investigation. They've been treated horrendously, and to say, they're going to help now put somebody away who indirectly brought all this on them, I'm not sure they're going to help...there's a disincentive for them to do it."
Hampton said the riot is not the result of a lack of correctional officers or an alleged fall-out from any agreements between the DOC and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Delaware Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI). He said the uprising is the direct result of a simmering of frustrations among the inmates..
"It didn't happen at Vaughn because there aren't enough correctional officers and there wasn't enough security--it happened because of the way the prisoners were being treated," said Hampton. "Eventually, if they keep it up, there will be some more open revolt; people aren't going to take this forever."
Dozens of correctional officers have called out sick in a coordinated effort to further highlight a staffing shortage and the dangerous conditions under which they're working within the Delaware Department of Correction, according to an e-mail sent by the leader of the Delaware DOC.
In an e-mail from DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps dated Monday, April 17, 2017, obtained by WDEL, Phelps said he's aware of officers' plans to participate in a so-called "sick-out" over the next few days. In response, he asked officers to reconsider.
"Please think about these plans and consider the effect this choice will have on your brothers and sisters you leave inside the institution," said Phelps in the e-mail. "Officers--who are also your friends--will be stuck at work. These officers will become tired, miss time with their loved ones, and be potentially placed in danger by those who do not show up for work. You currently have the support of the public and DOC leadership. It may feel like change isn’t happening fast enough, but a 'sick out' is not the way to enact change or make a statement."
The practice is commonly referred to as "blue flu" or a strike action, especially among police officers, in which workers call out feigning illness.
Several prison staffers have confirmed the sick calls to WDEL, but requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
The state's prisons have been chronically understaffed for years--and the problem has gotten worse since the fatal February riot that killed Lt. Steven Floyd at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. A coordinated effort to call out sick would only heighten tensions and increase security risks.
In the e-mail, with a subject of "thank you," Phelps also expressed gratitude towards correctional officers for their ongoing commitment and dedication in the face of adversity and tough times.
"I would like to sincerely thank you for your dedication to upholding the DOC mission. Continuing to show up for work under difficult circumstances demonstrates great character, honor, courage, and integrity," said Phelps.
The commissioner said he's committed to doing "everything in his power" to improve conditions and planning one-on-one meetings with personnel.
"Be honest when you talk to me. I can’t fix a problem I’m not aware of. Do not fear reprisals; there will be none. If it is within my ability to make an immediate change, I will," he said.
He also noted that he can't increase starting salaries for correctional officers with the snap of his fingers, noting such efforts are achieved through collective bargaining and legislative approval.
"Unlike a corporation, the state cannot reach into coffers to produce a pay increase overnight. In conjunction with collective bargaining, the General Assembly must sponsor, vote on, and pass bills to raise specific employment incentives," wrote Phelps.
Starting salaries for correctional officers amount to just above $37,000 a year. In his budget proposal, Gov. Carney has requested additional hires and a small increase in hazardous duty pay for officers. All other raises must be the result of ongoing collective bargaining discussions, which in his e-mail, Phelps said continue Tuesday.
When asked about the influx in "sick calls," DOC would not comment on specific staffing levels on any given day, citing the potential for safety risks.
"The vast majority of Delaware correctional officers reported to work today and are working hard to keep our facilities safe and secure," said spokeswoman Jayme Gravell.
Visitation was canceled at Sussex Correctional Institution and Howard R. Young Correctional Institution--like due to staff calling out sick. Visitation continued as usual Monday at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center and at the Baylor Women's Correctional Institution.
"Generally speaking, in the event of a staffing shortage, wardens are empowered with the ability to cancel certain privileges including visitation and programs. This allows officers to be assigned to different posts within the institution. We may also require mandatory overtime, but it's something we try to avoid when possible," said Gravell in an e-mail.
Tuesday, Saundra Floyd, the widow of Lt. Steven Floyd, and officers Joshua Wilkinson and Winslow Smith, who were held hostage and brutally beaten within inches of their lives in the uprising will speak out for the first time in advance of a federal lawsuit being filed against the state.
An independent investigation ordered by Gov. Carney into the death of Floyd and the circumstances that led up to the riot will be conducted by two retired judges after a Delaware State Police criminal investigation and a Delaware DOC internal investigation are complete.
The correctional officers' union continues to blast the state on the dangerous conditions they say persist behind the walls at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. Their officers remain vulnerable months after a riot killed one of their own, Lt. Steven Floyd.
But mothers of inmates say their men too are vulnerable.
They spoke out at a prison reform town hall, organized by the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice, which is also hosting a Journey for Justice at Legislative Hall, rescheduled for May 11.
"They are people. They're not animals, and we've got to stop treating them that way," said an unidentified woman.
"They should not be beaten. They should not be starved," said Theresa Leeball.
"They are beating these guys," said Tillie Carrello.
"Why are these men not receiving medical treatment? Some might be in their bleeding to death" said Deborah Jackson.
"They beating up brothers for real!" said former death row inmate Jermaine Wright.
"They need to be treated like human beings," said Josie Roy.
For hundreds of mothers, grandmothers, and former inmates of Vaughn, the aftermath that followed the fatal uprising has been a brutal, heartbreaking reality.
They said long before the inmate uprising, the complaints of their loved ones have been ignored--and afterwards, instead of addressing what they have called the reasons for the rebellion, the focus has been on protecting correctional officers.
Connie Runyon who said her son was in the "C" Building during the uprising, said the silence that followed in the week after was deafening.
"We didn't know if they were alive or dead."
Runyon started a private group on Facebook called "Direct Contact" for worried mothers like herself.
"Each one of us receiving our phone call, or receiving or a letter in the mail, or going to the visit, we come back in the group, we share what we know; we share those letters; we share what we observed on visits--it gives us contact within the walls," Runyon said.
They complain in the days after the riot that their sons, fathers, and brothers were brutalized.
"Crushed hands--when I went in to see my son a couple weeks ago, there was an inmate in there, that said he still doesn't have feeling in his hand from the ties," said Runyon.
Sheila White Kelly was among those who desperately wanted to know whether her son was still alive after the riot.
"They made sure that we didn't get down there to see our sons until four weeks later because all of the scars would've been gone and all that," she said. "He said: 'Mom, they slapped me so hard, I thought my jaw was broke.'"
A federal lawsuit filed by inmate Donald Parkell said about ten inmates were responsible for the hostage situation in Building C that unfolded over the course of two days on February 1, 2017 and February 2, 2017. The Delaware Department of Correction responded in court filings, calling Parkell's claims "vague" and asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed. DOC officials also declined an interview request for this story.
An internal investigation by the Delaware DOC and a Delaware State Police criminal investigation into the riot are both underway. A separate, independent investigation, ordered by Gov. Carney and to be led by two retired judges, will also probe the two-day revolt.
"These men went through a shocking, traumatic event, to watch these officers get brutally beat--one of them killed--that doesn't happen in our every day life. We're not in a third world country in war," said Runyon.
WDEL has received dozens of letters from inmates detailing horrific conditions behind the walls at the Vaughn prison. We'll share their shocking stories Tuesday and tell you about one man's desire to help.
Two correctional officers held hostage and the widow of a third who was killed during a violent inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna announced they'd be making public statements next week.
Saundra Floyd and correctional officers Joshua Wilkinson and Winslow Smith are expected to speak publicly for the first time about the horrific ordeal, which spanned the course of two days in February.
Three maintenance workers who hid in the basement and assisted in bringing an end to the uprising were also expected to speak.
Lt. Steven Floyd was killed in the prison revolt. Through her attorney, Floyd's widow claimed she still has not been told exactly how her husband died, and has not seen autopsy results. She's since refused a meeting with Gov. John Carney.
Both Smith and Wilkinson were critical following the beatings they received while being held captive. They've only spoken thus far through their attorneys, Tom Neuberger and Tom Crumplar.
Crumplar and Neuberger said they plan to file a federal lawsuit against the state next week. Facing litigation, officials for the state and Delaware Department of Correction have stated they can't comment.
An independent investigation helmed by a pair of retired judges was ordered by Carney, with the intent of uncovering the circumstances surrounding the prison revolt. That investigation came on the heels of an internal DOC investigation and a Delaware State Police criminal investigation.
Carney has repeatedly said he's committed to ensuring the necessary changes are made to improve security inside prison walls. He's pledged millions to hire new correctional officers and boost hazardous pay for officers; any salary increase would come from collective bargaining discussions.
These steps don't go far enough, according to Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware.
The Delaware Department of Correction is calling for the first federal lawsuit filed against it, by an inmate who claims he was held hostage during an uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, to be dismissed.
Acting warden Phil Parker, through his attorney Joseph C. Handlon, called the suit "extremely broad and vague" and said the suit is just an attempt by the filing inmate to have the court take over the investigation into the murder of of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd.
The Delaware State Police is conducting an investigation into Floyd's death and the surrounding hostage situation on February 1 and 2, concurrently with an internal investigation by the Delaware DOC. Governor John Carney also ordered an independent review by retired judges Justice Henry duPont Ridgely and William L. Chapman Jr.
"Plaintiff also seeks to have this Court order a fourth, unspecified investigation. Plaintiff's requested relief, in essence, requests that this Court interject itself into and arguably takeover the State's homicide and other investigations," the DOC's legal response said.
Inmate Donald Parkell, who claimed to be in "C" Building during the riot, filed his hand-written lawsuit on February 14, 2017--two weeks after the Smyrna prison takeover. The details were the public's first insider's glimpse into the alleged happenings during the siege.
In the paperwork, Parkell claimed Floyd was killed "very early" in the takeover. He also alleged all inmates in "C" building were brutally beaten, kicked, and stomped after police stepped in to end the siege. Parkell further claimed medical care has been withheld, and inmates' property has been unduly destroyed, post-incident.
"Plaintiff's second motion, filed on March 10, 2017, similarly alleges in general terms that mental healthcare is not being provided to inmates though Plaintiff simultaneously acknowledges that treatment is being provided. The second motion similarly makes broad allegations of lack of medical attention and that property has been withheld or destroyed."
Handlon also noted a court ruling 30 years ago that stated the "problems of prisons in America are complex and intractable." It goes on further to quote cases where it was decided that "prison administrators (sic) should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgement are needed to preserve internal order and discipline to maintain institutional security."
The DOC argued Parkell's lawsuit isn't likely to be successful on its merits to show a violation of any constitutional rights, and further, that the suit isn't in the public's interest.
"Plaintiff has at best alleged general conditions-of-confinement claims and has named the former and acting wardens solely because of theor position. He has not met his burden of showing a likelihood of success on the merits."
Parker took over for Warden David Pierce, who was at the helm during the riot. Pierce was first suspended and then permanently reassigned more than a week ago.
The DOC argued that the public, and Floyd's family, are better served in seeing the outcome of the criminal investigation.
"Plaintiff has failed to show the balancing of hardships weigh in his favor and that any relief requested by him is in the public interest. Obviously, the public has a significant interest in the maintenance of secure prison facilities, particularly in the wake of a serious hostage crisis and during the pendency of a criminal investigation," DOC attorneys wrote. "The public and the affected family members of the victims likewise have a significantly stake in the maintenance of a proper criminal investigation."
When one of four Delaware Department of Correction employees who had been held hostage inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center stood during Gov. John Carney's first address before a joint session of the General Assembly, there was standing ovation inside the chamber.
"Officer Wilkinson, I hope you feel the love," said Carney.
This was only Joshua Wilkinson's second public appearance following his endurance of brutal beatings at the hands of inmates during a two-day siege.
"No matter how well you plan for the transition as a new governor, no one ever prepared for the tragedy that occurred on February 1--15 days after I took office," said Carney. "We lost a correctional officer: Lt. Steven Floyd."
Since the inmate uprising, Carney has ordered an independent investigation to be led by two retired judges, Henry duPont Ridgely and Bill Chapman. Their recommendations are due June 1, including steps which could be taken ahead of the legislature's June 30th deadline.
Carney has come under sharp criticism by the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, whose members said the governor hasn't acted quickly enough to secure officers' safety in the volatile climate left in the wake of the uprising.
"It will not be a report that collects dust on a shelf," said Carney. "Officer Wilkinson, I pledge to you that we will make real improvements, and we will make them as quickly as possible."
In his budget address, Carney called for 75 new officers at JTVCC and investments in technology and emergency communications to make officers' jobs safer; he also announced a small step to increase the starting salaries of correctional officers to $35,000 per year--a step union leader Geoff Klopp said at the time was insulting and would do nothing to retain current officers or attract new talent.
Wilkinson was unable to comment Thursday due to pending litigation, but Klopp stood alongside him during the speech, and said he's hopeful change is coming.
"Although the timing needs to be a little sooner, I know the governor's office is working very hard to try to resolve some of the issues that are currently plaguing the Department of Correction," said Klopp.
Klopp said the governor also attended a private town hall-style meeting with correctional officers earlier this week in Dover, from which the media was barred.
"The governor got a much better grasp on the issues, and the jobs, and the difficulties, and what is needed to make the Department of Correction start heading down the right road to be a safe place to work," said Klopp.
Patience is growing thin among correctional officers who said the state of Delaware isn't going far enough to improve security within the walls of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, nearly two months after an inmate uprising killed one of their own.
The president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware (COAD) union sat in Governor John Carney's budget unveiling Thursday, where the governor announced an additional $1,500 in hazardous duty pay for officers bringing their total, starting salary to just more than $37,000 a year.
Afterwards, Geoff Klopp called the proposal woefully inadequate.
"To say we are disappointed is a huge understatement. A suggested pay raise of only $1,500 does not come close to meeting the needs of Delaware's correctional officers. The rank and file of COAD have patiently waited for the governor to make good on a promise to remedy the problems in James T. Vaughn and the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd," he said. "There is no way in God's green Earth I can sell this budget as a resolution to my members. In fact, most of our members will be insulted."
Klopp said the governor's budget proposal ignores their list of demands which he said would address the "cancer growing in the Department of Correction."
"Everyone knows what happens when you fail to treat a cancer," he said. "If anyone believes things are magically better in our prisons, think again. Every day and every night our officers go to work facing threats, harm, injury, and even death."
Dozens of officers have already quit or announced early retirement in the wake of Floyd's death. Klopp said, with this proposal, he expects more to do the same.
"A $1,500 pay raise won't keep them or attract any new officers," he said.
The state and the union are expected to begin collective bargaining negotiations next week, where salaries could rise further.
"We have not had tremendous results with [the collective bargaining process], and we are skeptical," he said.
Klopp said the union needs a $50 million investment in order to retain current officers and make the Delaware DOC more competitive with neighboring states to attract new talent willing to do the dangerous work.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Carney announced the commitment of $2.3 million for 75 new correctional officers at Vaughn and the Delores J. Baylor Women's Correctional Institution and $1.3 million for new emergency equipment and training for COs. But he admitted these proposals don't go far enough. He said he'll await the results of several ongoing investigations into the inmate uprising before making further recommendations.
Klopp said those investigations could take a year.
"We don't have two weeks," said Klopp. "We were in a staffing crisis before Lt. Floyd was murdered...we're missing 40 percent of our officers right now."
Parents of inmates and ex-inmates want sustainable change in the prison system after what many of them are calling years of neglect.
"Right now, what's going on in there is torture," said one of the speakers.
It was a call echoed by many speaking at a town hall on prison reform at the Cannaan Baptist Church near New Castle.
"My son and his roommate in Building 23 were handcuffed, made to be naked and sit on the floor for an hour while they destroyed all of the commissaries myself--and I'm sure the other roommates parents sent money for," said Teresa Liebal. "As they beat my son's roommate they [correctional officers] dared my son to step in."
Tillie Carello's son is also behind bars at Vaughn. She claims he helped save a female counselor during the inmate uprising that spanned two days.
"They are beating these guys, the foul things they are doing to these men are cruel," said Carello.
Karen Miller's son is also at Vaughn, and she just wants better treatment for her son and other inmates throughout the state so, when they leave the correctional system, they're actually corrected.
"They are people, they are not animals--so stop treating them that way," said Miller.
Some at Monday night's town hall, hosted by the Delaware Coalition for Prison Reform and Justice, named correctional officers that have been accused of beating inmates.
Jermaine Wright used to be an inmate on death row.
"You got counselors that ain't really counselors, you got mental health people that ain't really mental health people, so, you have programs being run by inmates, you got people with degrees, they don't know how to handle us," said Wright. "We come from a different place than they come from."
Wright added that in many cases inmates are committing suicide, and he claims that's not how the Delaware Department of Correction describes their deaths.
Delawareans, including the families of inmates at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, will gather Monday night to discuss prison reform efforts.
"We're pressing for the truth," said Reverend Chris Bullock, pastor at the Caanan Baptist Church and founder of the Delaware Coalition for Prison Reform and Justice.
Bullock is hosting a town hall meeting at his New Castle-area church in the wake of the February inmate uprising that left correctional officer, Lt. Steven Floyd dead.
"It's important that the community has an opportunity to voice their concerns, their fears, their hopes, pray together, talk together, begin to talk about solutions," he said,
Bullock is among a several who've called for a federal investigation into the fatal riot, claiming the state cannot properly investigate itself.
He said the voices of correctional officers were heard in a state Senate public hearing, and now it's time for others to speak up. Many are expected to read letters from loved ones from inside the walls.
"The community--they need to have an opportunity to share their stories...I have a file on my desk of over 100 letters since this happened from family members, concerned community people, an they're all saying the same thing."
Raising correctional officers pay--now, and not later--that's the demand from the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware Union (COAD).
Union president Geoff Klopp, who spoke at Legislative Hall Thursday, said raising salaries for officers is imperative to improve safety inside James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, where inmates staged a rebellion that lasted nearly two days and left correctional officer, Lt. Steven Floyd dead.
"The pay isn't enough and the working conditions are not good enough, and the administration and the legislators evidently don't understand the urgency of this situation and the fact that the facility is at a stress point that I've never seen in my 29 years at the Department of Correction," said Klopp. "The time for action is now. We need to have this compensation package approved....corrections officers are not hearing any more talk and promises."
Klopp said he met recently with members of the powerful Joint Finance Committee and presented an enhanced compensation package.
"Things just didn't go as well as they could've...I need them to pass the compensation package that's been presented to them, because that is the first step in the right direction," said Klopp.
He said salary increases should allow the department to become competitive with other states, and fill hundreds of vacancies which lead to excessive overtime. Dozens of correctional officers abruptly resigned or announced their early retirement after Floyd's murder.
"The compensation package is paramount because that's what you have to do first, so that we can attract people to come do this job," said Klopp. "We work over 8,000 hours of overtime in a week. You have to fill all of these positions so people are not exhausted, not overworked, under-appreciated, and underpaid."
The union's package includes the following demands:
A complete staffing overhaul for all facilities.
A complete overhaul of the salary structure for all COAD officers
Having no fewer than two employees assigned to any post where inmate contact occurs, including outside hospital duty
Employee benefits days (vacation, sick, holidays) based upon the employee's regularly scheduled daily hours
Employees to be paid through eSTAR from the time they clock in until the time they clock out (which would also resolve outstanding Unfair Labor Practice and Department of Labor complaints against the state)
Attendance bonuses of $500 per year for employees who do not call off for unscheduled leave.
Double time for freezes
Oil-based cap-stun devices and operable radios for all employees working at locations where inmates are housed or directly supervised.
Monthly paid training days for all employees
State will provide cleaning of uniforms and a $200 boot allowance.
Weekend differential of 10 percent of the pay for hours between 12 a.m. Saturday and 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
Hazardous duty pay of $5,000 annually
Correctional Emergency Response Team (CERT) specialty pay, equal to 10 percent of regular pay
Revisions to the Pension proposal currently pending before the General Assembly
Allowing release time for Union officials to work on COAD/Departmental issues (which would also resolve outstanding grievances against the State)
Rescission of the DOC/ACLU agreement
WDEL has reached out to Joint Finance Committee chairs State Rep. Melanie George Smith and State Sen. Harris McDowell for comment.
This week, Gov. John Carney proposed hiring an addition 50 correctional officers at Vaughn prison. He also proposed $300,000 in immediate investments in technology and communications to make cell searches and emergency responses safer. He added an independent review to be led by two retired judges begins this week, and he will turn their recommendations into action items.
"In the meantime, the Department of Correction and the Office of Management and Budget are working expeditiously to review and address recruitment and retention of quality correctional officers," said Jon Starkey, a spokesman for the governor. "That review includes an examination of hiring strategies and potential adjustments to the entry salary for correctional officers through collective bargaining starting in the spring."
A female correctional officer had a close call with an inmate inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center Tuesday.
The incident further illustrated the volatile climate behind bars since the prison uprising last month, union officials said.
Union officials with the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware said the officer was collecting trash after dinner in the infirmary when an inmate moved to walk past her Tuesday after 4 p.m.
Officials said the officer used her arm to try to block the inmate, and he struck her arm away and took on a fighting stance. When a second CO arrived as backup, the inmate "lunged" past them and continued walking down the hallway, officials said.
The officers deployed their departmentally issued pepper spray to subdue the inmate, who had begun to swing his arms in the air toward the officers.
The inmate went under a medical evaluation and was cleared of any injuries, officials said. The correctional officers weren't hurt in connection with the incident.
The officer assisting as backup in this incident was working an overtime shift, union officials said.
COAD President Geoff Klopp said the incident illustrates the dangers of overtime work, of which Vaughn accounted for 597 shifts last week alone, he claimed. Since the two-day standoff that killed Lt. Steven Floyd, dozens of COs have abruptly resigned or announced they'll seek early retirement.
"The governor recently stated that he authorized additional purchases of equipment and hiring of officers. That sounds great on the surface, but the reality is that we can't retain the officers we have now!" said Klopp. "If there was an additional staff member or two in the infirmary when this incident took place, would this assault still have occurred? I think not. There is safety in numbers. We do not need a special commission to see that.
The union has also presented its own plan to improve security inside Vaughn. WDEL has reached out to union officials for comment on the plan.
Adding correctional officers and investing in technology--those are two areas of focus Governor John Carney is taking to ensure that security is stepped up at Smyrna's James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on the heels of a fatal prison riot.
The governor proposed an immediate $304,800 investment in new security and communications equipment so correctional officers can better respond to inmate uprisings and other dangerous situations. A separate, larger $1.2 million budget line for new emergency communications will be included in Carney's Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal, expected to be released on March 23, 2017.
"The short-term investments in state-of-the art equipment will help our officers identify and respond to security threats," said DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps in a written statement. "Longer-term investments in staffing, recruitment and officer training will go a long way to helping ensure public safety, and the safety and security of employees and inmates at all of our facilities."
Carney is also seeking to hire an additional 50 correctional officers at Vaughn and 25 officers at the Delores J. Baylor Women's Correctional Institution. That will cost $2.3 million. Since the uprising that killed Lt. Steven Floyd, dozens of correctional officers have abruptly resigned or filed for early retirement. Ongoing discussions include ways to raise starting salary and alter recruitment and retention efforts for correctional officers; salary discussions will begin in the spring with the correctional officers' union.
The governor has also unveiled a new e-mail address--AskDOC@state.de.us--to improve communications between family members of inmates and Department of Correction personnel. Inmates' family members can also call 302.857.5470.
So far, no charges have been filed in connection with the prison siege. An investigation by Delaware State Police is ongoing, along with an internal investigation by the Delaware DOC. Those investigations will be followed by an independent investigation to be led by retired judges Justice Henry duPont Ridgely and William L. Chapman Jr. Carney said he will take their recommendations seriously, but said some steps need to be taken now to improve the volatile climate behind bars at Vaughn.
"It's our responsibility to do whatever is in our power to make the environment at Vaughn safer for correctional officers and inmates," said Carney in a written statement. "Prisons are inherently dangerous places. But everyone inside that prison, and their loved ones, deserves to know that their government takes their safety seriously, and that we’re doing what we can right now to right the ship at Vaughn."
More Delaware correctional officers are quitting in the wake of an inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, in which one of their own was killed.
The Delaware Department of Correction said Wednesday that 18 correctional officers have resigned and 18 have submitted retirement paperwork since the Feb. 1 incident, an increase from 25 reported earlier this month.
The staff departures are in addition to 29 resignations reported by the prison's health care contractor.
The president of the Delaware correctional officers union said Wednesday that the number of staff departures is only going to rise, and that he expects another 15 to 20 correctional officers to leave in the next week or so.
Inmates took four DOC workers hostage last month, setting off a nearly 20-hour standoff during which correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd was killed.
As rumors continue to swirl around the circumstances and actions which caused the death of Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd, and his family begs for answers and justice, they've been met with only silence from the state.
"It's been over 30 days now, and the family has been told absolutely nothing about how Lt. Floyd, Gulf War veteran, died," said attorney Tom Neuberger. "The family needs closure."
Neuberger, along with the firm Jacobs and Crumplar, is representing Floyd and other Delaware Department of Correction officers and employees affected by the violent inmate uprising inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna on February 1 and 2, 2017
Neuberger wrote a letter to Governor John Carney, which he's calling a petition for justice. It was hand-delivered to the governor's office Monday.
Floyd was one of four individuals taken hostage in the prison siege--and he was the only one to be killed.
Attorney Tom Crumplar told WDEL that inmates staged a fight in Building C as the prisoners were coming in from their recreational yard activities, and rushed the responding correctional officers in what he said was undoubtedly a coordinated and carefully planned attack. Two other correctional officers, Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkinson, endured hours of vicious beatings while fearing for their lives throughout the entire 20-hour ordeal, Crumplar said. Smith and Wilkinson, were trapped in a small closet, where a blanket was lit on fire and thrown at them; both said, through their attorney, that they heard Floyd's scream from the closet next door.
The details released are consistent with the scene described by insiders, who've wished to remain anonymous, throughout the inmate uprising. The Delaware State Police, the Delaware Department of Correction, and the governor's office have released few details since the day the stand-off came to an end, and have stayed silent on how Floyd died--though rumors have run rampant.
"They need to know: was he executed quickly? Did he suffer? Was he tortured? Was he maimed?" asked Neuberger. "I've heard stories of a large pool of blood on the floor. It's inhumane and cruel not to tell the family... and to make them carry on their grief forward for months and months."
Neuberger said he believes the Floyd family may've gotten "lost in the shuffle" amid ongoing investigations, the abrupt resignations of dozens of staffers inside Vaughn, calls from the correctional officers' union for better wages and safer work conditions, and calls from special interest groups for inmates' rights.
In a written statement, Carney said he's committed to improving security in Delaware's prisons.
"Lieutenant Floyd was a dedicated officer who performed a difficult job on behalf of the people of Delaware, and served our state for years with distinction,” said Governor Carney. "I am committed to taking the steps necessary to improve security in Delaware’s correctional facilities, and to improve safety for our correctional employees, understanding they have a difficult and often dangerous job."
Neuberger said he reached out Attorney General Matt Denn on Feb. 17--first, in writing, and secondly, by telephone, and heard no response.
I think we're also being stonewalled by the attorney general's office--I've lost my patience--they aren't interested in talking to us or exploring any sort of private roads forward instead of two years of scorched Earth litigation," said Neuberger. "Instead, we're getting a 'see you in court' attitude from the attorney general's office."
In response, Carl Kanefsky, a spokesman for the attorney general's office said prosecutors are committed to working with law enforcement investigations to ensure that the inmates who caused Floyd's death are held accountable.
"DOJ did receive an e-mail from Mr. Neuberger in which he advised that he was representing Sergeant Floyd's family and the families of other correctional officers and that he intended to sue the state on their behalf," said Kanefsky, in an e-mail. "DOJ promptly responded to Mr. Neuberger in writing informing him that it would discuss his allegations and theories of liability with the state agencies he indicated that he intended to sue. "
And Neuberger said the state will see him and his clients in federal court in 30 days over problems that he said have persisted within the Department of Correction for more than a decade.
"Oh they'll see justice...we're going to be suing former Governor Minner--I've had several successful lawsuit against her--my law firm drove the former state police superintendent into early retirement...we know how to win and win in federal court--if they want to go to court we'll be there in 30 days, and we'll do what's necessary to get justice for the family and everybody else who was held hostage."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware said it’s irresponsible that some correctional officers are claiming the agreement between the Delaware Department of Correction (DDOC) and the ACLU caused CO’s to lose control of their facilities and contributed to the fatal inmate uprising inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.
Thursday, Delaware’s Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee held a public hearing on working conditions and safety inside the state’s prisons. Most of the witnesses who provided testimony were current or former correctional officers. Many blamed the ACLU agreement for worsening conditions inside the prisons.
“We unequivocally deny those accusations,” said ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Kathleen MacRae. “I think it’s important to remember that the agreement that we reached regarding the solitary confinement of the mentally ill that are held in the James Vaughn prison is less than a year old. Obviously the problem that we’re confronting today has years of history behind it.”
The Community Legal Aid Society (CLASI) and the DDOC entered a settlement agreement on August 31, 2016. A U.S. District Court judge approved the order on September 1, 2016. The settlement regards solitary confinement and mental health care.
According to the ACLU’s website, CLASI filed a lawsuit, litigated by the ACLU, CLASI, and a private law firm on behalf of more than 100 mentally ill inmates being held in solitary confinement 165 hours per week. Click here for more information.
MacRae said the decisions made inside the DDOC are not dictated by the ACLU or the settlement.
“If you look at the settlement there is absolutely nothing that dictates how the Department of Correction should assign housing,” said MacRae, “and number two, there is absolutely nothing that says that mental health workers can override direct orders from correctional officers when disciplining inmates.”
She said blaming prison conditions on the ACLU agreement is irresponsible.
“Everybody in the system needs to recognize that the problem is much bigger than the last six or eight months since that settlement agreement went into effect,” said MacRae.
MacRae said there has been an outflow of correctional officers and mental health care workers since February 1, the day of the uprising.
“Obviously that creates a problem,” said MacRae. “There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to implementing a settlement like that. There are guidelines, and guideposts, and expected outcomes, but certainly they are not so rigid that we can’t accommodate problems that arise such as this.”
Spokesperson for the DDOC Jayme Gravell told WDEL the DDOC is limited in what it can share, due to the ongoing investigation. However, she provided the following information about the agreement:
"Offenders are housed based on a classification score which results in placement within one of three security levels: minimum, medium, or maximum. The score considers previous criminal convictions, institutional behavior, age, and the severity of the crime for which they are currently incarcerated. The ACLU agreement does not dictate where inmates are housed within the institution, but addresses the amount of recreation and treatment offered to those inmates who are housed in areas identified as restrictive housing."
The Delaware Coalition for Prison Reform and Justice released a letter it sent to the Department of Justice.
It requested Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware Charles Oberly initiate a federal investigation into Delaware’s four major prisons.
Prison inmates took control of Building C in the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on February 1, and Department of Correction Sergeant Steven Floyd was killed.
“We understand the anger in the correctional officers feel in the aftermath of the building takeover and death, but that cannot justify the mistreatment of inmates in state custody in violation of the 8th amendment of the United States Constitution,” said Chairman of the committee Dr. Christopher Bullock.
WDEL has reached out to the Department of Correction for comment.
Delaware State Police are conducting a criminal investigation into the siege of Vaughn. Governor John Carney has commissioned an independent review slated to follow DSP’s investigation. The coalition said that’s not good enough.
“No we don’t trust the state,” said NAACP Bear Branch President Richard Smith. “I don’t trust the state. I tried to work with the state. The state do not want us in there and the state cannot investigate their [sic] self.”
The coalition wants federal action now.
“We respectfully request that the investigation begin immediately,” said Bullock. “Again we believe that the state cannot investigate itself. We need an independent, independent investigation.”
In 2016 the ACLU of Delaware received 725 complaints alleging civil rights violations. 450 of the complaints came from prisoners.
“These complaints take various forms. They frequently report that prisoners have not had access to proper medical care or mental health treatment,” said Executive Director of the ACLU of Delaware Kathleen Macrae. “They complain about general prison conditions, overcrowding, having to sleep on the floor, not getting outside for recreation, or being put outside in the winter for recreation for hours on end without coats or hats or boots.”
She also said prisoners complain that the grievance process is useless and their complaints are not resolved.
“And And they report verbal and physical abuse by some guards and complacency from other guards who don’t want to lose their jobs, or don’t want to be seen as taking sides with the prisoners,” said Macrae.
Michael Bartley recently got out of DCC prison in Smyrna after serving 15 years. He was charged with armed robbery.
“I was a career criminal. I came up under the umbrella of living the street code from the school yard to the prison yard so to speak,” said Bartley.
He said there is a school to prison pipeline that must be stopped.
“From the schoolyard and if you lucky to the prison yard, because now as you see a lot of these young kids are going to the graveyard unfortunately,” said Bartley.
Bartley is now a member of the coalition.
“I’m just coming out to support the brothers out there how doesn’t have a voice,” said Bartley.
He would like to see better programs for prisoners.
“Parenting classes, vocational training for guys who come out, and have a trade under their belt,” said Bartley. “Coming home to something, because everything that is going on in Smyrna prison it has a direct and indirect effect on what we’re seeing in the streets of Wilmington.”
He has a message for Wilmington’s youth.
“You don’t have to walk a mile in my shoes to get it right,” said Bartley. “You got to stay in school, keep walking that path, get that education. That’s important. Don’t worry about the criminal justice system, don’t worry about the violence, just stay on that correct path and do what you need to do. Keep your thoughts, and your emotions, and your desires in order and you’ll be alright.”
Brutally beaten, locked inside a small, dark closet, and set on fire--that's what correctional officers held hostage inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center had to endure during an inmate uprising which spanned two days.
Correctional officers Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkinson are being represented--along with the family of Lt. Steven Floyd--by attorneys Thomas Neuberger and Tom Crumplar, who are weighing a potential civil lawsuit.
"I mean he was beaten from head to toe--literally every part of his body," said Tom Crumplar, of his client Smith.
Crumplar said the officers are too traumatized to personally speak publicly about their injuries. He said Smith didn't even want his name made available to the public, but knew the case was too important to stay silent.
"He felt the issue was so important that he really wanted to kind of encourage people to come forward [if] they have any knowledge about this decade-long pattern of inadequately funding the prison, [and being] given improper security, he thinks there are witnesses out there--at all levels of government--including documents that could really show the public the nature of this problem and how it has not been dealt with," said Crumplar.
Crumplar said inmates staged a fight in Building C as the prisoners were coming in from their recreational yard activities and rushed the correctional officers in what was undoubtedly a coordinated and carefully planned attack. Smith and Wilkinson endured hours of vicious beatings, fearing for their lives throughout the entire 20-hour ordeal, Crumplar said.
"If he were here today, he would want to shake your hand, but he can't shake your hand because his hands still can't grasp anything," said Crumplar. "He's got chipped bones in his neck, it's just all down to his kneecap and even below."
A blanket was also lit on fire and thrown on top of the two men during the period when they shared a common wall with the closet that contained Lt. Steven Floyd, where he was killed during the siege.
"Maybe to burn them alive? I'm not exactly sure...they were able to stop that," Crumplar said. "They could hear, basically, his [Floyd's] cries for help and anguish."
The details released are consistent with what insiders have told WDEL, who've wished to remain anonymous, happened in the inmate uprising.
Delaware State Police are conducting a criminal investigation and won't release details into the siege until their investigation is complete. The Delaware Department of Correction also has refused to comment further on the events of Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, aside from what was revealed the day the siege ended, with state police taking a backhoe to a wall of metal footlockers full of water blocking an entry point.
An independent review, commissioned by Gov. John Carney and led by two retired Delaware judges, is slated to follow DSP's investigation, but the Delaware Coalition for Prison Reform and Justice has been critical of the plans, saying officials have not gone far enough. The group has repeatedly called for an independent, federal investigation, saying the state cannot investigate itself.
Both Smith and Wilkinson have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, their attorney said.
The potential civil rights lawsuit Crumplar and his clients are weighing against the state would seek not only compensation, he said, but also significant change--so that Floyd did not die in vain.
The Correctional Officers Association of Delaware has said the state's prisons are understaffed and their officers are grossly underpaid. Thursday, at Legislative Hall, many correctional officers, both past and present, testified that conditions in Delaware's prisons--especially James T. Vaughn--are downright dangerous.
"We've been screaming for help for a long time--nobody's listened," he said. "It took us losing an officer for us to have this conversation."
"If they were really looking at it from the top could've seen that this was inevitable due to deteriorating conditions, they were totally understaffed, lack of security, basic protections for those who work there," said Crumplar. "Those people are responsible--in terms of the government--for not having a safe facility."
The members of Delaware’s Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee looked solemn as witness after witness painted a grim picture of prisons in the First State.
Most of the witnesses were current or former Department of Correction officers.
One moment during the hearing brought almost everyone in the room to their feet. A witness, who was not a DOC employee, urged legislators to listen to the inmates’ grievances. Republican Senator Anthony Delcollo responded.
“I’m keenly aware that there are constitutional liberties that matter. We had a very frank conversation with a 21-year veteran who was standing here who acknowledges that as well,” said Delcollo. “I believe that we need to look very carefully at how we are streamlining our resources. The manner of which we are supporting our correctional officers and determine how best to safely effectuate the protections the requirements that we all live under in the state of Delaware and in the United States of America.”
He then paused before continuing.
“With that being said, I do want to send a strong personal perspective, and one that’s echoed by people in my senate district,” said Delcollo. “I’m compelled to say this with due respect to your concerns, I personally and as a representative of the 7th cannot, cannot swallow the notion of giving credence to complaints however substantively valid that exist under a pall of hostage taking and the loss of a law enforcement officer’s life.”
The room burst into loud applause, as DOC employees stood to their feet and gave Delcollo a standing ovation.
At the end of the hearing Chairman of the Committee Democratic Senator Bobby Marshall (D-Wilmington West) thanked the many witnesses for their testimony.
“I think it’s loud and clear that we need significant cultural changes to protect our employees within our prison,” said Marshall, “and then there are many other issues that will be an outgrowth.”
After the hearing, Marshall said there were three key issues brought up by the DOC employees who testified.
“We need to improve by taking another look at the classification system that has somehow been disregarded, and the violent, the dangerous inmates are now involved with the total inmate population,” said Marshall. “So, we need to go back and possibly question the judicial issue that was the outgrowth of a lawsuit by the ACLU.”
He also said DOC employees need more professional training.
“And we need to look at the management issue and how we can improve the quality of safety within the buildings,” said Marshall.
Delcollo said that while lawmakers must be mindful of the investigation underway into what happened at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center that resulted in the death of a CO, he believes legislators can work to address these problems this General Assembly.
“What we’re hearing is that we have problems that have been occurring for more than a decade,” said Delcollo. “Problems with staffing levels. Problems with retention. Problems with making sure that there is a level of safety there to implement the important civil rights and constitutional protections that must exist under our system of law in this country and there is no reason why we can’t begin the work of looking at those issues and concerns and addressing them.”
Witnesses who testified about retaliation against DOC employees by superiors for writing up inmates who act out stood out in Delcollo’s mind.
“I’m concerned about the testimony regarding retaliation for individuals who actually follow the rules and are trying to vindicate the process,” said Delcollo. “I’m deeply concerned about the classification system and feeling that there’s no purpose in aggressively pursuing the rule of law within the walls of our correctional institutions. I’m concerned about the sense that I got from many of these fine law enforcement officers and civilian staff that the situation is hopeless.”
President of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware Geoff Klopp is glad lawmakers held the hearing.
“I believe it gave us an opportunity to enlighten some of the senators on some specifics that they may not have been aware of,” said Klopp. “I believe this is hopefully a step in the right direction.”
He stressed the need for a competitive salary for correctional officers.
“Lack of staff that’s due directly to a poor compensation package, which is mainly due to the pay,” said Klopp. “They want to pay us a subpar wage and we can’t attract anybody that wants to come work here right now. We have to address that immediately.”
He said between $46,000 and $50,000 would be a competitive starting salary.
“Right now we can’t even get people to apply for the salary we’re trying to offer,” said Klopp.
Klopp also said more training for correctional officers is imperative.
“There is a systemic failure that’s happened slowly over time, and it’s all due to lack of training for the correctional officers and the supervisors, and everybody’s just tired,” said Klopp. “There’s a lot of issues, but it’s all happened slowly over time. If you address the pay and start getting things moving in the right direction, we have the ability and the knowledge of how to correct this.”
Current and former Delaware Department of Correction officers and staff testified before the Labor and Industrial Relations state Senate committee Thursday.
They said the conditions under which they work are dangerous and dysfunctional enough to have led to the death of one of their own.
"Right now, what we have is not a prison, it's a three-ring circus," said Sgt. Aaron Forkum, who's been with the DOC for five-and-a-half years.
Officers testified they're understaffed, overworked, and underpaid--and those conditions contributed to the fatal inmate uprising inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. Delaware's pay for correctional officers isn't comparable to neighboring states, making retention difficult.
"Lack of staff raises the risk of being assaulted, as [shrinking numbers] is seen as 'no authority' to the inmate population," he said. "We are stretched beyond our means just to carry out and perform daily operations and tasks such as running programs, recreations, visits, commissary and religious services--things that are essential, that are rights to the inmates."
Forkum and others testified that they believe they lost control of their facilities after the DOC entered into an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought increased mental health services to inmates.
"There's no actual disciplinary procedures for the inmates, they really kind of run the show now, along with mental health," said former correctional officer Charity Roop, who moved over to administration due to security concerns. "And they're rewarded for bad behavior. The mental health area now receives Dunkin' Donuts coffee and doughnuts because it's for their mental health. Things like this, I don't see how it's an actual prison setting any longer."
Correctional officer Jeff Peppers said the agreement created required conditions beyond their means.
"We do not have enough staff to provide for everyone...and the ACLU ruling that was implemented, by it being implemented--already with insufficient staff--we implemented something we weren't even staffed for," said Peppers, who spent four years with the Delaware DOC and worked with the criminally insane for more than 25 years in New Jersey.
Peppers also claimed there were no cameras in Building "C", where the riot occurred.
Through the ACLU agreement, inappropriate levels of monitoring, and a failed classification system, Forkum said dangerous offenders entered the general population units without "just cause or merit."
"We're discouraged from doing write-ups, we're discouraged from holding these guys accountable when they act up, when they commit acts of assault on each other or on staff," said Forkum.
"You have a murderer in the same cell as a person that might jaywalk, so the combination of them two--the people that have felonies, at some point, they can get classified to the compound...in Jersey we don't have that--we have state prison and we have county prison....so by combining them together--the weaker with the stronger...that creates an unsafe environment," said Peppers.
Forkum called the agreement a "backroom deal" that should be reviewed, voided, and revamped. He said the current agreement allows mental health to defer or block security staff's actions to segregate an inmate if it's deemed detrimental to the offender's mental health, regardless of the infraction committed.
Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the ACLU, called the officers' and staffers' claims unequivocally false.
"There was nothing in the agreement that required DOC to change a prisoner’s location in a way that would result in a less secure prison environment. It is utterly untrue and irresponsible for correctional officers to say that the settlement agreement turned control of our prison facilities over to inmates," said MacRae in a statement.
Roop added problems within the Delaware DOC start at the top. She said she's brought concerns to her supervisors, and they were ignored.
"I had been threatened with sexual assault by inmates; I had been threatened with bodily harm by inmates...I was told: 'This is why females don't belong in an institution with males," she said.
Forkum said, after the two-day standoff at Vaughn, he became aware of a "viable threat" to officers' safety; he couldn't detail the nature of the threat to WDEL, citing the ongoing Delaware State Police criminal investigation, but said after various contacts to supervisors and 48 hours, nothing was done.
"I had to write an e-mail to send out to numerous sources--Mr. Klopp [union president] being one of them--along with some other people who were up our chain of command before it ever made it to the warden's ear," claimed Forkum. "The information's not being shared, it's not being taken seriously; the administration does not give a damn what we have to say.
"It starts with holding our administration accountable," said Forkum. "A lot of the individuals that you have in place have been in those seats for a long time, they've been steering the ship--and the ship's been steady going in the wrong direction."
Forkum hopes that maybe this time, their concerns won't fall on deaf ears.
"It's bad enough we had a counselor that was raped...now we have an officer that has lost his life. We've been screaming for help for a long time--nobody's listened," he said. "It took us losing an officer for us to have this conversation."
The conditions of Delaware's prisons, from inside the walls, will be the subject of a hearing at Legislative Hall Thursday
The Delaware Senate Labor and Industrial Relations committee is expected to take a deep dive into the working conditions in Delaware's prisons on February 23, 2017, at 1 p.m. in the Senate chamber.
It's expected correctional officers--former and current--will testify. Parents and loved ones of inmates may also be present to talk about conditions inside the prisons. Many say they haven't heard from their sons and fathers since the riot; others claim their loved ones have been mistreated.
Correctional officers complain of low pay and constant unwanted overtime due to a lack of staffing. Several have quit or retired since the prison siege and hostage stand-off at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, which killed correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd.
State Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), who sits on the Joint Finance Committee, took the first step towards remedying that Wednesday by proposing that the state use existing dollars to improve conditions. He wants to use the $22 million in the budget allotted for Delaware Department of Correction overtime and use it to give all correctional officers a $4,000 raise; the remaining money would be spent towards hiring 180 correctional officers.
Senator Bobby Marshall (D-Wilmington West), who's head of the Senate committee, said the hearing will not examine what happened in the inmate uprising and two-day hostage standoff, where four DOC personnel were taken hostage on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
He said that's under criminal investigation by Delaware State Police. Following their investigation, Gov. John Carney has commissioned an independent review to be led by two retired judges.