A grim faced John Carney led a team of Delaware officials as they released some details of the nearly 19 hour hostage standoff at the James Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
It was the first crisis faced by Delaware’s new governor where it was announced that Correctional Sgt. Steven Floyd, a 16 year veteran was killed during the incident. Police say 120 inmates are being held as suspects Part of the investigation will try to determine how many were involved in the uprising and how many were just victims. Today, investigators are processing the crime scene cell by cell, collecting evidence.
“We lost one of our family members, and it pains my heart to make these statements,” said Delaware Department of Correction deputy director Perry Phelps, holding back tears at a Thursday press conference.
Floyd, two correctional officers and a female counselor were taken hostage Wednesday morning. Multiple police agencies and the FBI led negotiations via one of the correctional officer’s radio, and worked on a plan to enter the building and rescue the hostages.
Inmates released two correctional officers throughout the day on Wednesday. Those officers were treated at a hospital and released. Several other inmates left the prison Wednesday, and three maintenance workers hiding in the basement were able to make their way to the roof and escape.
Around 5 a.m. Thursday, police made their way into the building and rescued the counselor, who had been protected by several other inmates during the standoff, according to Robert Coupe, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
But Floyd was found unresponsive, and was pronounced dead on the scene.
The end of negotiations
Coupe said inmates used stalling tactics, including filling up foot lockers with water to block entry into the building. The water was given to the inmates as part of a negotiating deal, which officers believed was for hydration.
Police were able to enter the building using a backhoe. He also said investigators believe sharp instruments were used during the incident, but have no information on what they were. An autopsy will reveal the cause of Floyd’s death.
Investigators did not reveal a motive for the incident, or details into how the situation took place. But inmates called the News Journal during the standoff, saying they had concerns about their treatment at the prison.
This is not the first time an incident like this has occurred at the prison. In 2004, an inmate abducted and raped a prison counselor. That incident took place during the administration of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. Carney served as Lt. Governor at that time.
Gov. Carney, Coupe and Phelps said they will take ownership of the event that ocurred this week. In addition to determining how the standoff started, investigators will also explore what can be done to prevent another incident from happening in the future.
“We also have to investigate what happened here, determine the facts to make sure it never happens again,” Carney said. “We will leave no stone unturned. We will bring every resource we have to sort out this issue and problem to make sure the correction facilities are secure and employees who work there are safe, recognizing this is very dangerous work.”
While there are 1,700 employee positions at the prison, state officials admit prison shifts remain understaffed. Coupe said officers work overtime to make up for the empty positions, and staff numbers on Wednesday were normal.
The men’s prison is the state’s largest adult, male correctional facility, housing about 2,500 inmates on minimum, medium and maximum security, as well as Kent County detainees awaiting trial, and inmates sentenced to death.
The section of the prison where the standoff took place houses inmates going through the disciplinary process, either entering maximum security, or on the way down to medium security.
Honoring Sgt. Floyd
Carney ordered flags to be flown half-staff on Thursday.
“This is a very sad day across state of Delaware, with the loss of one of our brave corrections officers. My prayers all day yesterday was this event would end with a different result, but it didn’t. So today all of us mourn the family and Sgt. Floyd,” he said.
“These brave men and women go to work every day knowing they may not come home, as do their families. We owe them an incredible debt of gratitude, and we owe that family the support of all of us across our state.”