Court dates to begin Oct. 8 for inmates charged in Vaughn uprising

DOVER — Almost a year after they were indicted on Oct. 17, 2017, the 18 inmates charged in the Vaughn prison uprising that left a correctional officer dead have been assigned their day in court.

According to the state’s Office of Conflicts Counsel, the inmates have been divided into five groups, scheduled to stand trial at the New Castle County Courthouse beginning next month. The trial for the first group of four men is to start Oct. 8, with trials continuing through February 2019.

Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. will hear the cases and all men charged have been assigned legal representation.

The Office of Conflicts Counsel said as of Thursday, they were not aware of any changes to the original charges.

Sixteen of the inmates are facing murder charges in connection with the death of Lt. Steven Floyd, and along with two other prisoners, are also charged with counts of kidnapping, conspiracy and rioting for their alleged roles during the nearly two-day uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on Feb. 1, 2017.

Of the 18 charged, 11 were serving sentences for murder and manslaughter. Four have life sentences.

After the October trial, a second and third group of four individuals each are scheduled for legal proceedings on Nov. 5 and Dec. 3, respectively. The last two groups of three inmates each will stand trial on Jan. 7 and Feb. 11, 2019.

Prosecutors assigned to the case include deputy attorneys general John Downs, Brian Robertson and Nichole Warner.

Pedro Chairez

The Delaware Department of Justice said last year that charges stemmed from injuries suffered by correctional officers Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkinson, and the kidnapping of counselor Patricia May.

The 16 defendants were charged with three counts of first-degree murder (intentional murder, felony murder, and recklessly causing death of a correctional officer); two counts of first-degree assault (a count each regarding officers Smith and Wilkinson); four counts of first-degree kidnapping (a count each for Lt. Floyd, officers Smith and Wilkinson and counselor May); one count of riot; and one count of second-degree conspiracy (regarding the riot).

Facing those charges are Jarreau Ayers, Abednego Baynes, Kevin Berry, John Bramble, Abdul-Haqq El-Qadeer, Deric Forney, Kelly Gibbs, Robert Hernandez, Janiis Mathis, Lawrence Michaels, Obadiah Miller, Jonatan Rodriguez, Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz, Roman Shankaras, Corey Smith and Dwayne Staats.

In addition, inmates Pedro Chairez and Royal Downs were each charged with four counts of first-degree kidnapping, (a count each for Lt. Floyd, officers Smith and Wilkinson and counselor May); one count of riot; and one count of second-degree conspiracy (for conspiring to commit riot).

Chairez is an inmate from Arizona serving a 43-year sentence for second-degree murder and other charges committed in that state.

Downs is an inmate from Maryland serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and other charges committed in that state.

Both men, along with Hernandez, are serving time in Delaware through the state’s Interstate Corrections Contract. They are among 20 out-of-state offenders who have been relocated to Delaware prisons under that program. Hernandez is from New Mexico, where he was sentenced to 16 years for a second-degree murder charge.

The February incident

According to a series of reports given by DOC and state officials, the takeover of Building C, which then housed about 120 inmates in transition from medium to maximum security, began at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2017.

During the incident, inmates took four correctional workers — the three officers and Ms. May — hostage. Two of the three officers, both severely beaten, were released later that day. Three correctional maintenance staff members were trapped in Building C and later rescued during the uprising.

Royal Downs

The nearly 19-hour hostage stand-off ended after tactical teams used a backhoe to break through a barricade of water-filled footlockers, rescued Ms. May and found Lt. Floyd unresponsive on Feb. 2.

Officials said inmates were armed with sharp instruments and used an officer’s radio to communicate with negotiators.

Ms. May was allegedly not injured and officials said that some inmates may have actively “shielded” her from harm.

The decision to breach the barricaded building came at around 5 a.m. on Feb. 2, when negotiation experts determined there was significant stalling and fear for the remaining hostages’ well-being was rising.

Earlier in negotiations, the inmates had bargained to have the water in Building C turned back on so they could “hydrate” and use it for hygiene purposes, but they instead filled footlockers with the water to add weight and blocked entryways with them.

Officials confirmed that 16-year veteran officer Lt. Floyd died sometime during the siege. He was pronounced dead at 5:29 a.m. Feb. 2. The only official information ever released to the public was when the Delaware Division of Forensic Science ruled his death a “homicide by trauma.” Although the autopsy was never released to the public, several comments made earlier in 2018 suggest that the murder was grisly.

Speaking at a New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association rally in January, Correctional Officers Association of Delaware President Geoff Klopp said:

“Approximately a year ago, Lt. Floyd was brutally murdered, practically decapitated, his body was treated in a way that I’m not even comfortable letting you know what happened to him on that day.”

In a Jan. 13 letter to the editor advocating for the reinstatement of the death penalty in Delaware, Wilmington attorney Thomas Neuberger, who represented Lt. Floyd’s family and the riot survivor in a lawsuit against the state, said “I know that he (Lt. Floyd) was brutally tortured for over 16 hours in ways which defy imagining.”

Court dates scheduled

Inmates charged in the James T. Vaughn prison uprising on Feb. 1-2, 2017, have been scheduled for trials in New Castle County.

They were divided into the following groups to stand trial, under Judge William C. Carpenter Jr.:

Group 1 – Oct. 8
Roman Shankaras represented by Jason Antione
Dwayne Staats represented by Peter Veith
Jarreau Ayers represented by Patrick Collins
Derric Foley represented by Ben Gifford

Group 2 – Nov. 5
Obadiah Miller represented by Anthony Figliola
Lawrence Michaels represented by Andre Beauregard
John Bramble represented by Tom Pederson
Kelly Gibbs represented by John Deckers

Group 3 – Dec. 3
Pedro Chairez represented by Scott Wilson
Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz represented by Brian Chapman
Kevin Berry represented by Andy Witherell
Abednego Baynes represented by Cleon Cauley

Group 4 – Jan. 7, 2019
Robert Hernandez represented by John Barber
Louis Sierra represented by Natalie Woloshin
Janiis Mathis represented by Eugene Maurer

Group 5 – Feb. 11, 2019
Royal Downs represented by Jon Layton
Corey Smith represented by Kevin Tray
Jonatan Rodriguez represented by Herbert Mondros

Craig Anderson contributed to this report.

 

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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