DOVER — The widow and three adult children of Lt. Steven Floyd, the correctional officer killed in the Feb 1. inmate uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, made a plea for justice Monday to Gov. John Carney through their lawyer, Thomas Neuberger.
In the letter addressed to Gov. Carney, Mr. Neuberger outlined the family’s opinion that the Department of Correction is “broken” and expressed their appreciation of the tough problems the governor is up against. But the letter also made a firm plea for justice.
“The question for you, Gov. Carney, is does the state care about his (Lt. Floyd’s) family or does the state intend to dishonor his memory and fight to deny justice to his survivors who are directly affected by this tragedy?” asked Mr. Neuberger in the letter March 6.
An earlier letter, sent by Mr. Nueberger on Feb. 17 to Attorney General Matt Denn requested a discussion about “possible roads forward” in the family’s case, but the attorney said that effort was “ignored.” Mr. Neuberger noted that Lt. Floyd’s family, “out of desperation,” had authorized him to deliver the plea because they’ve been affected particularly “hard” by the current approach the state has taken.
Department of Justice Public Information Officer Carl Kanefsky said on Tuesday that the DOJ did receive an e-mail from Mr. Neuberger that announced his representation of Lt. Floyd’s family and the families of other correctional officers and their intent to sue the state. The DOJ released the following response: “The employees of the Delaware Department of Justice grieve Sergeant Floyd’s death. Our prosecutors are committed to working with law enforcement investigators to ensure that the inmates who caused his death and inflicted injury upon other DOC employees are held accountable for their crimes. The DOJ promptly responded to Mr. Neuberger in writing, informing him that it would discuss his allegations and theories of liability with the state agencies he indicated that he intended to sue.”
Mr. Neuberger feels that Lt’ Floyd’s family is being left behind in the midst of the uprising investigation.
“Five weeks after his heroic death, the family still has not been told how or when he died,” he said. “Was he slowly tortured, was he quickly executed, did he bleed out over a long time, did he suffer greatly or pass early, was his body mutilated? After five weeks, one would think that someone in the state could have thought privately to help bring closure to Lt. Floyd’s widow, his three adult children, and his many other relatives. To force them, months from now, when an autopsy is finally made public, to rip their wounds open again is cruel and inhumane.”
In the plea sent to Gov. Carney, time is taken to express thanks to him for his presence at Lt. Floyd’s funeral and recognize the laundry list of issues he’s currently at the helm of resolving.
Specifically, the letter made mention of:
• The criminal homicide and riot investigation with over 100 suspects being conducted by the state police.
• The need to keep the prison system running and housing its 5,500 inmates in the wake of the uprising and in the midst of 54 correctional officers and medical staff quitting and retiring.
• A subsequent investigation by two retired members of the Delaware judiciary that will provide recommendations related to under-staffing, forced overtime and salary structures that are below the norm in neighboring states.
• Several demands for a federal investigation into inmate conditions in the prison system.
• Contending with a false smear campaign being advanced against correctional officers working in a “broken” system.
While giving credence to the seriousness of these issues, the plea asked that Lt. Floyd’s family not be left behind in the process of dealing with them.
“Please do not forget about or lose my clients in the shuffle,” said Mr. Neuberger in the letter. “My clients do not seek revenge against those responsible but simple justice for what they have endured.”
In the letter’s closing remarks, Mr. Neuberger issues an ultimatum. Without an adequate response in 30 days, he notes that they will “see all the responsible parties in federal court.”
“If the state truly cares, you (Gov. Carney) will call us to discuss a path towards justice,” said Mr. Neuberger in the letter.
Although declining to comment specifically on potential litigation, Gov. Carney released the following statement:
“Lieutenant Floyd was a dedicated officer who performed a difficult job on behalf of the people of Delaware, and served our state for years with distinction,” said Gov. Carney. “I am committed to taking the steps necessary to improve security in Delaware’s correctional facilities, and to improve safety for our correctional employees, understanding they have a difficult and often dangerous job.”
The Gov.’s office noted that they are in the process of reviewing Mr. Nueberger’s letter.
“The Governor appointed Justice (Henry) Ridgely and Judge (William) Chapman to lead an independent review into the causes of the incident,” said Gov.’s office spokesman Jonathan Starkey. “They will review the events surrounding the hostage incident and related security issues at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, and make recommendations to help assure the safety and security of employees and inmates at the facility. Governor Carney will take their recommendations seriously.”
Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at firstname.lastname@example.org