The Delaware Department of Justice on Oct. 17 announced indictments against 16 state prison inmates on murder charges stemming from the death of a corrections officer during the Feb. 1 takeover of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, which left a veteran corrections officer dead.
The announcement was made more than eight months after inmates seized control of the prison’s C Building for more than 18 hours. During the incident, Lt. Steven Floyd Jr. was killed, and two other guards and a female counselor were taken hostage in the process.
The 16 inmates were all charged with three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, four counts of first-degree kidnapping, one count of riot and two counts of conspiracy in the second degree, the DOJ announced in a statement. Two more prisoners were charged with kidnapping, conspiracy and riot, the agency said.
The indictments were presented to a New Castle County grand jury on Monday and sealed by the court for security reasons, the statement said, “so that Department of Correction personnel could ensure that necessary security precautions were taken within correctional facilities to process inmates on the indictments.”
The announcement confirmed that the 16 persons charged with murder and two confederates are incarcerated in Delaware correctional facilities. There was no disclosure of where exactly they reside.
“This was an extremely important and time-consuming investigation that involved unique challenges,” Attorney General Matt Denn said in a brief statement. “I appreciate the police and prosecutors’ focus on ensuring that justice is done for the victims in this case and their families.”
The DOJ said that prosecutors and police would not comment any further, citing restrictions on the agency’s ability to publicly discuss pending criminal matters.
The Office of Defense Services, which will provide legal representation through its Public Defender’s Office and Office of Conflicts Counsel, said Tuesday that it was already in the process of providing lawyers to the accused inmates.
“The Office of Defense Services is prepared to provide a lawyer for each person charged in the indictment and has started the process of doing so,” Chief Defender Brendan O’Neill said in a statement. “The Office of Defense Services is committed to providing each and every client with competent, conflict-free legal representation.”
Inmates took over JTVCC’s C Building around 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 1, setting off tense negotiations throughout the day. Correctional officers Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkinson were taken hostage and beaten during the siege but were later released. Patricia May, a counselor at the prison, was freed when authorities finally retook control of the building shortly after 5 a.m. on Feb. 2.
Floyd, a 16-year veteran at the Department of Correction, was found dead inside the prison walls. His death was later ruled a homicide.
An independent report released earlier this year found that chronic understaffing, a lack of communication and inadequate technology likely contributed to the incident, and that excessive overtime hours had depleted moral among corrections officers.
The DOJ and the Delaware State Police headed the criminal investigation into the takeover, but had repeatedly declined to comment on the scope of the probe. In August, the DOJ said it expected to announce indictments by mid-November.
Floyd’s family and the surviving hostages have filed a civil case against two former Delaware governors and other officials, accusing the state of failing to address underlying security concerns that led to the takeover.
Attorneys for Smith, Wilkinson and May have said that their clients now suffer from a host of permanent injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and memory loss.
Thomas S. Neuberger, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said Monday that his “clients are pleased that these murderers and kidnappers have been charged.”
“The torture of Lt. Steven Floyd was horrible and beyond imagining. Justice needs to be done here,” he said in a statement.
Donald Parkell, a prisoner who claims to have been in the building throughout the ordeal, has also sued on behalf of other JTVCC inmates, alleging abuses at the hand of police and prison staff both during and after the retaking.
Both cases are pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.
Tom McParland can be contacted at 215-557-2485 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TMcParlandTLI.