A Dover attorney has filed a lawsuit against Gov. John Carney, prison officials and staff on behalf of more than 100 inmates who said they were tortured and abused in the wake of last year’s uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, which left a corrections officer dead.
Stephen A. Hampton said the 80-page civil complaint, filed Tuesday in Delaware Superior Court, came as the result of the state’s refusal to address longstanding problems at the prison that culminated in a violent “revolt” in February 2017.
Hampton, a partner at Grady & Hampton, sent a letter to Carney last March describing the “orgy of gratuitous violence against every inmate” in JTVCC’s C-Building, and threatened litigation if the governor did not take action to end ongoing abuses. The demand was referred to the Delaware Department of Corrections, eventually leading to the lawsuit.
“If as it appears, the governor has no remedy available to end torture in Delaware prisons other than to forward the complaints to DOC, it can rightly be said that there is no state department or agency that will protect Delaware inmates from being tortured in Delaware prisons,” Hampton said in a response to the governor’s office.
A spokesman for Carney declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation. A spokeswoman for the DOC did not return a call seeking comment.
In the filing, Hampton blamed the prison takeover on deteriorating conditions at JTVCC, including a lack of health care, educational programs, drug-rehabilitation services and a culture of violence and disrespect directed at inmates. The complaint quotes extensively from prisoners’ own accounts of state’s emergency response and the following weeks, in which inmates said they were beaten and deprived of essentials, property and access to mental health services and sometimes sexually abused by officers.
The inmates said they were subjected to shakedowns and strip searches, and that guards, while laughing, had forced them to touch their genitals and then stick their fingers in their mouths. Multiple inmates described having objects shoved in their anus. One prisoner described the act as sexual assault.
“It was a shakedown at gunpoint,” another said of cell searched conducted on March 9, 2017. “I saw puddles of blood outside on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to W building. Inmates continued to be pepper sprayed and beaten that entire day and into the night. Sick calls are answered in weeks, grievances in months.”
According to the lawsuit, prisoner complaints at the prison are regularly ignored, and DOC supervisors do not discipline officers who harm inmates. Hampton, who has three other lawsuits pending against the DOC, said that Delaware’s governors have also ignored criticisms that the state is simply “warehousing inmates,” without providing health and rehabilitation services.
Hampton said that officials had been warned that “something bad was going to happen,” but did nothing before the 18-hour siege.
“The fact that it blew up is not a surprise,” Hampton said in an interview. “Everybody knew it.”
Two corrections officers were badly beaten during the ordeal, and another officer and a prison counselor were taken hostage. Authorities discovered the body of Lt. Steven Floyd under a mattress and other debris after retaking control of the building around 5:30 am Feb. 2, 2017.
Sixteen inmates are accused of murder, riot, conspiracy, assault and kidnapping. Two more have been charged, but not accused of murder.
A criminal trial is currently underway in Wilmington for the first three prisoners charged in the case. The state plans to try the rest of the defendants over the next four months.
The civil case is captioned Adger v. Carney.