The Delaware Department of Justice is planning to present an indictment related to the Feb. 1 takeover of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center’s Building C to a New Castle County grand jury within the next three months, a spokesman said Monday.
The development comes more than six months after the state launched a criminal probe into the 18-hour siege at the Smyrna facility, in which Lt. Steven Floyd Sr., a 47-year-old correctional officer, died. Two other guards were injured and taken hostage in the siege, and a fourth victim, a female counselor at the prison, was rescued shortly after police and staff from the Delaware Department of Correction retook the building in the early hours of Feb. 2.
“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,” Carl Kanefsky, a spokesman for Attorney General Matt Denn, said in an email.
“While prosecutors and investigators will continue to gather evidence, we expect to present an indictment to a New Castle County grand jury for consideration within the next 90 days.”
The DOJ is responsible for bringing charges in the case, and the office has been assisting the Delaware State Police and the DOC, which have been leading the investigation. But state officials have remained mostly silent regarding the progress of the probe, which was said to include all 120 inmates housed in Building C at the time of the takeover.
Kanefsky did not comment Monday on the scope of the state’s investigation or how many prisoners were still considered suspects.
“This investigation presents unique challenges, not the least of which is the fact that many witnesses are themselves incarcerated inmates,” the statement read.
Officials first briefed the public on the details of the takeover in a Feb. 2 press conference, but have repeatedly declined to comment further, citing the ongoing criminal investigation. Prisoners had used “sharp instruments” to overpower correctional officers and later barricaded the entrances to the facility with water-filled footlockers, they said at the time.
Throughout the day on Feb. 1, prisoners made phone calls to The News Journal, protesting overcrowded conditions and demanding better access to education and rehabilitation programs. Recordings of the calls were posted online, and the newspaper said it had turned the recordings over to police.
Authorities finally regained control of the building around 5 a.m. on Feb. 2, after breaching the building with a backhoe, officials said in February.
Correctional staff, family members and inmates have since provided a window into conditions at the prison and the chaos that ensued after the DOC lost control of Building C around 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 1.
A lawsuit filed by Floyd’s widow and prison employees accused state officials—including former Govs. Jack Markell and Ruth Ann Minner—of failing to address severe understaffing and chronic security concerns at JTVCC for years. According to the complaint, there were no surveillance cameras operating in the building at the time of the attack, and an influx of dangerous violent offenders a year ago had left prison staff outnumbered and exposed.
An independent investigation has also found that a lack of communication and inadequate technology and training contributed to lapses that allowed the attack to occur.
In February, a lawsuit by inmate Donald Parkell provided the most detailed account from a prisoner claiming to be inside Building C at the time of the takeover. In court documents, Parkell said that no more than 10 masked inmates orchestrated the coup, while others banded together to cook food and some ran to the aid of prison besieged employees.
Parkell claimed to have protected a female counselor in a cell, along with two other prisoners, rebuffing others who threatened to harm the group. He has accused police and DOC staff of beating inmates, seizing prisoners’ property and curtailing access to medical services in the aftermath of the siege.
Parkell’s narrative has not been confirmed, but his case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, in May was deemed credible enough to have counsel appointed on his behalf. James S. Green Sr., a partner with the Wilmington firm Seitz, Van Ogtrop & Green, said he is working with Parkell to file an amended complaint in the case, which will seek class certification and, ultimately, money damages for alleged constitutional violations.
Green said his client has told him that all of the inmates in Building C during the takeover have been moved to secure housing as the investigation continues.
The DOC did not respond Monday to questions about Parkell’s individual status or how many of the inmates were being held in secure housing. An agency spokeswoman has confirmed that Parkell, who is serving an eight-year sentence for second-degree burglary, is a prisoner at JTVCC. However, she could not say whether he was in Building C at the time of the takeover.
The Office of Defense Services, which provides legal representation through its Public Defender’s Office and Office of Conflicts Counsel, said Monday that it is responding to prisoner’s requests for counsel, but did not indicate how large the need was.
“The Office of Defense Services has and will continue to provide counsel for any inmate that wants to speak with an attorney or requires legal representation regarding the Feb. 1 incident at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center,” spokesman Jon Offredo said in a statement. “We have no further comment.”