Dover lawyer demands end to ‘torture’ of prison inmates


Attorney Stephen Hampton looks at letters from inmates at his Dover office. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — A local law firm sent a letter Monday to Gov. John Carney calling for the “torture of Delaware inmates at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center to cease immediately.”

Attorney Stephen Hampton, of the law firm Grady & Hampton, LLC, claims in the letter that “scores of inmates have been brutalized and tortured at the prison near Smyrna since C-building was stormed by law enforcement and correctional officers on Feb. 2.”

Mr. Hampton said he’s been “inundated with requests for help” from inmates and their families since the uprising at the prison that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead — many requesting a class action lawsuit be filed on their behalf.

He says he has received letters from nearly 100 inmates seeking assistance.

“I plan to investigate the legal options available to the inmates, and hope to file something for as many as I can, whether that be a class action or individual causes of action,” said Mr. Hampton in an attached statement of intent. “It will take some time to do it because of the large number of inmates who have been abused.”

Along with the letter, Mr. Hampton sent 35 retyped inmate accounts that detail recent abuse by DOC staff members. The picture painted by the sum of letters since the uprising is one of “brutilization and torture,” he said.

In Mr. Hampton’s letter to Gov. Carney, he says the small group of inmates who took control of C-building on Feb. 1 were easily overpowered by the invading officers and the DOC hostages were promptly released.

But what followed the siege was an “orgy of gratuitous violence against every inmate in the building.”

“Dozens of inmates describe the initial contact with the ‘rescuing officers’ as sustained violence accompanied by a stream of profanity, racial slurs, sexual slurs and threats of further violence,” said Mr. Hampton.

“Inmates were slammed on to the ground, if not already there, and hogtied with the zip ties so painfully tight on their wrists that many sustained nerve damage.”

Even once restrained the beatings continued, Mr. Hampton claims.

“Injuries included lacerations, broken bones, bruises and brush burns caused by being drug over paved surfaces while hogtied,” he said. Mr. Hampton’s letter goes on to allege the inmates only received a “perfunctory” 30-second examination by a nurse.

The inmates were then moved to maximum security without clean clothes, blankets, soap, sheets, toilet paper, or medical care for two or three days, he claims.

“The lack of any health care for a month or more appears to be mandated by DOC, but the medical providers have an obligation to lobby for inmates who are not receiving care, and the extent to which they have acquiesced in this brutalization of inmates might leave them liable to the inmates,” Mr. Hampton said.

After order was restored, Mr. Hampton said, the torture of inmates has not ceased.

He claims that continual “terrorizing and abuse” of inmates have taken place under the guise of “shakedowns” that are supposed to be used to search cells for contraband.

“The shakedowns would begin with pepper spray under the door of the cell with the inmates left to breathe it in for several minutes, followed by a group of officers barging into the cell, beating the occupants and in many cases shocking them with an electric shield,” he said.

Despite many inmates having filed grievances, Mr. Hampton said in the letter, many are returned as “non-grievable” and there is no known investigation into any of the inmates’ claims.

At the end of Mr. Hampton’s letter he asks Gov. Carney to offer concrete steps to stop the torture of inmates at Vaughn center and makes several requests: That all videos of any sort from the buildings involved with the revolt or treatment of inmates afterward be retained by the DOC for future court action; that every time a correctional officer must use force, a “use of force” report is filed; that all use of force reports and inmate grievances be retained for future court action.

Jonathan Starkey, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Gov. Carney takes allegations of abuse very seriously, but because Mr. Hampton has indicated that he plans to sue the state the governor will not comment on the content of the letter.

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