Autopsy report: Floyd may have lived if rescued sooner

Lt. Steven Floyd

WILMINGTON — Almost two years after his death during the Vaughn prison riot, Lt. Steven Floyd’s autopsy report was revealed.

On Thursday Dr. Gary Collins, the chief medical examiner responsible for the autopsy, testified in the ongoing criminal trial that will decide the fate of the 18 inmates charged with perpetrating the riot.

He informed the jury that Lt. Floyd sustained a great number of stab, puncture and blunt force trauma wounds during the Vaughn prison riot last year. Unable to estimate how many individual injures, Dr. Collins simply said: “a lot.”

His report also indicated that there were postmortem burn marks down Lt. Floyd’s entire back caused by “flames or heat.” Hemorrhaging in the neck muscles and fractured thyroid cartilage also suggested that he had been strangled, said Dr. Collins.

Additionally, there was “skin slippage,” indicating that a portion of his body spent a prolonged period submerged in water. Much of C Building (the site of the riot) was found with several inches of water on the floors because the building’s fire suppression system had been triggered, according to earlier testimony.

Although the autopsy photos shown to the jury were taken after Lt. Floyd had been “cleaned up,” they depicted a brutally beaten, lacerated and battered body — the largest most gruesome injuries being on Lt. Floyd’s head and face. Uncomfortable shifting, intense looks and tearful sighs washed over the jurors as they looked on.

Most notably, Dr. Collins explained that even though Lt. Floyd suffered significant wounds, if he’d received medical treatment soon after sustaining them, he may have survived. Although severe, the wounds were mostly superficial, meaning that no internal organs had been seriously compromised. Due to not receiving any treatment, blood loss was likely the “mechanism” of his death, said Dr. Collins.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Ben Gifford pressed Dr. Collins to estimate a time of death. Explaining that it was impossible to be certain, Dr. Collins felt comfortable guessing at a time range. He said his “best guess” based on reviewing postmortem changes like rigidity would be 6 to 8 hours prior to when Lt. Floyd had been declared dead on Feb. 2 2017 just after 5 a.m.

“It could have been longer,” he said.

Delayed rescue

Lt. Floyd’s family and several survivors who were held captive during the riot launched a civil suit against the state last year that alleged Governor John Carney interrupted a rescue attempt that may have saved the correctional officer’s life. The original 52-page federal complaint was filed by Wilmington attorneys Thomas Neuberger and Tom Crumplar in April 2017.

Though the suit would eventually be settled in late 2017, Mr. Neuberger noted before the current criminal trial started in October, they still believe the DOC and governor’s office failed to intervene at the most crucial hour.

“We alleged in our complaint that, according to protocol, about one hour into the hostage taking, a rescue was about to be launched,” he told this paper. “But, Gov. Carney, we believe, astonishingly ordered the rescuers to stand down despite the best professional policing advice to the contrary. Perhaps some of that will come out at this trial. Or perhaps the time of death will come out which would show whether a rescue one hour in could have saved Steven Floyd’s life which would mean that his blood is on the hands of Governor Carney if he stepped in and overruled the professionals.”

Gov. Carney has publicly denied that claim.

Secrecy around autopsy

The autopsy report was a significant bone of contention between Lt. Floyd’s family and the governor’s office even before they filed their lawsuit.

In March 2017, Lt. Floyd’s widow Saundra issued a letter to the governor through her attorney’s office demanding to be given more information.

“Just reply privately or publicly to my demand for the release of the autopsy of my husband,” she said in her statement. “How did he die? Did he suffer greatly, or did he pass quickly? Was he tortured? Was he stabbed 100 times, as we have heard? Did he die in a great pool of blood, as is rumored? Please end our suffering and help us move on. Overrule the state’s many lawyers and address our suffering. Respect the memory of my dear husband and my family that much.”

Late last year the case was settled for $7.55 million. Both parties agreed that the claims remain disputed and the settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing by the state, nor a concession by the plaintiffs that their claims were unfounded.

It’s believed that no other lawsuit in Delaware’s history has cost its taxpayers more.

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