Delaware inmates charged with murder following prison riot

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Kelly Gibbs had pled guilty this week to riot, kidnapping and conspiracy charges in connection to the February 1-2, 2017 riot at Vaughn. (File/WHYY)

Kelly Gibbs had pled guilty this week to riot, kidnapping and conspiracy charges in connection to the February 1-2, 2017 riot at Vaughn. (File/WHYY)

Eight months after February’s deadly prison riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, 18 inmates have been charged, 16 with first degree murder.

The Delaware Department of Justice announced the indictments on Tuesday morning.

Lt. Steven Floyd was killed during the two-day ordeal earlier this year. Correctional Officers Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkinson were injured and counselor Patricia May was held hostage.

“This was an extremely important and time-consuming investigation that involved unique challenges,” Attorney General Matt Denn said. “I appreciate the police and prosecutors’ focus on ensuring that justice is done for the victims in this case and their families.”​​

The defendants are all currently incarcerated in Delaware jails and have been since the incident in February. A New Castle County grand jury handed up the indictments yesterday, but were initially sealed as a security precaution so Department of Correction employees could safely process the inmates on the new charges.

Sixteen inmates have been charged with three counts of murder, which includes intentional murder, felony murder and recklessly causing the death of a correctional officer; two counts of assault, four counts of kidnapping; one count of riot and one count of conspiracy.

The inmates who were charged include:

1. Jarreau Ayers, age 36 – currently serving a life sentence for Murder 1st Degree and other charges

2. Abednego Baynes, age 25 – currently serving 18 years for Murder 2nd Degree

3. Kevin Berry, age 27 – currently serving 14 years for three counts of Robbery 1st Degree and other charges

4. John Bramble, age 28 – currently serving 40 years for Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Assault Second Degree, Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited, and Home invasion

5. Abdul-Haqq El-Qadeer, aka Louis Sierra, age 31 – currently serving a life sentence for Murder 1st Degree

6. Deric Forney, age 28 – currently serving 11 years for Possession of a Firearm During Commission of a Felony, Possession of a Firearm By a Person Prohibited and drug charges

7. Kelly Gibbs, age 29 – currently serving 24 years 9 month sentence for Murder 2nd Degree

8. Robert Hernandez, age 36 – an inmate from New Mexico serving a 16-year sentence for Murder 2nd Degree in that state

9. Janiis Mathis, age 25 – currently serving 15 years for Assault 2nd Degree and other charges

10. Lawrence Michaels, age 31 – currently serving 19 years for Kidnapping 1st Degree, Attempted Robbery 1st Degree, Possession of a Firearm during Commission of a Felony and other charges

11. Obadiah Miller, age 25 – currently serving 10 years for Manslaughter and Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony

12. Jonatan Rodriguez, age 25 – currently serving 40 years for Manslaughter and other charges

13. Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz, age 27 – currently serving 40 years for Manslaughter and other charges

14. Roman Shankaras, age 30 – currently serving 7 years for Riot and two counts of Robbery 1st

15. Corey Smith, age 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, Attempted Robbery First Degree, Assault Second Degree, Promoting Prison Contraband

16. Dwayne Staats, age 35 – currently serving a life sentence for Murder 1st Degree

Two other inmates were each charged with kidnapping, riot, and conspiracy. They are:

1. Pedro Chairez, age 42 – an inmate from Arizona serving a 43-year sentence for Murder 2nd and other charges committed in that state

2. Royal Downs, age 52 – an inmate from Maryland serving a life sentence for Murder 1st Degree and other charges committed in that state

“We are pleased that the Dept. of Justice has filed the indictments in the murder of Steven Floyd and the senseless assault on other correctional officers,” said Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware. “It’s a step in the right direction and we’re moving forward. And you know, we wait to see what happens through the judicial process.”

WHYY’s request for an interview with Denn about the indictments was denied.

“Because of court rules that restrict prosecutors’ ability to publicly discuss criminal matters prior to the time of trial, police and prosecutors will have no further comment about the indictments at this time,” a statement from Denn’s office read.

An independent review of the nearly 20-hour siege documented systemic dysfunction within Delaware’s prisons which it said created, “fertile ground for chaos and violence.” Gov. John Carney has implemented some of the recommendations from the report, such as increasing correctional officers’ starting salaries and addressing the staffing shortages.

“I’m hopeful that the symptoms will be studied, the root causes will be looked at seriously, so we can avoid this kind of unfortunate incident happening again in our Delaware prisons. My position is we want fair and equal treatment for both the inmates and the officers,” said Rev. Chris Bullock, head of the Delaware Coalition for Prison Reform and Justice, who believes the governor is moving in the right direction. “It’s going to be a marathon and not a wind sprint in terms of reform, restructure and addressing the culture and the issues that have been raised by the officers as well as the inmates. So it’s a plethora of issues, concerns and challenges that the governor has to deal with. Today’s news is a big step toward the issue of justice and moving to the truth.”

 

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