An attorney for an inmate alleging constitutional violations in the wake of last year’s deadly uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center has accused top prison officials of ordering beatings and forming teams of officers to “terrorize” prisoners.
The most recent filing in the case mirrors previous allegations by Donald Parkell, an inmate who claimed to have been taken hostage during the nearly 19-hour ordeal at the prison’s C Building last February. But it also adds a new layer of specificity to Parkell’s claims, as his legal team tries to avoid dismissal of the suit.
In a 20-page amended complaint, Parkell’s attorney, James S. Green Sr., said that Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps and the prison’s former Wardens David Pierce and Phillip Parker directed correctional officers to assault inmates after authorities retook the facility and later formed teams of guards to “terrorize and torture” inmates.
“They gave orders to assault the inmates, deny them medical and psychiatric treatment, place them in solitary confinement, limit their food rations, and seize and destroy their personal property,” Green wrote. “Without discovery, except as reflected in the public record, plaintiff cannot know with certainty which defendant gave which order.”
Parker, who had served as deputy warden before the uprising, was named acting warden through May. Pierce, who was warden at the time of the takeover, has since been reassigned within the DOC to Dover Probation and Parole.
A spokeswoman for the DOC denied the allegations “flat-out,” but declined to comment further on the pending litigation.
Green, a partner with Seitz, Van Ogtrop & Green, did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment.
Parkell, a medium-security inmate at the prison, filed a handwritten complaint in the weeks following the takeover, accusing state officials of creating a “toxic” environment that led to abuses. Prisoners at the Smyrna facility were unconstitutionally denied access to medical treatment and religious diets and were subjected to beatings in retaliation for the riot, which left veteran corrections officer Lt. Steven Floyd Sr. dead, Parkell said.
Later versions of the complaint alleged former Gov. Jack A. Markell had deliberately understaffed and failed to train correctional officers who worked there, resulting in a “pervasive disdain” between staff and prisoners that made the attack “predictable and inevitable.”
Attorneys from the Delaware Department of Justice moved to dismiss the proposed class action in November on the grounds of qualified and legislative immunity.
Joseph C. Handlon, deputy attorney general with the DOJ, argued in the motion that the “broad and undefined” allegations failed to link current and former state officials to the supposed wrongdoing, and the claims were too speculative to expose Markell and other officials to personal liability for alleged constitutional violations.
In Thursday’s answering brief, Green said the defendants had acted with deliberate indifference to the safety of correctional officers and prisoners, and he sought to connect the officials directly to the alleged abuses.
“To compound its dereliction of duty, rather than protect plaintiff and the class of inmate victims following their retaking of Building C, the defendants punished them by beatings, torture, destruction of their property, deprivation of medical, psychiatric and dental care, and placing them in solitary confinement with no opportunity to be heard. That is what this case is about,” he said.
A total of 18 inmates have been charged in relation to the incident, and 16 are facing murder charges in Floyd’s death.
Floyd’s family and DOC staff injured in the ordeal settled a separate case against the state for more than $7.5 million in December.
The current case in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware is captioned Parkell v. Pierce.
It also names current JTVCC Warden Dana Metzger, Department of Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Robert Coupe and unnamed prison staff as defendants.