Hartly woman wants compensation for ring lost at jail

DOVER — The Department of Correction is offering $1,000 reimbursement for a lost ring.

Glenda M. Vanderwende says her engagement band was purchased for over $2,100 and has tremendous sentimental value.

The DOC earlier described the ring as “costume jewelry” according to Ms. Vanderwende, who claims it’s a one-karat jewelry piece with 13 diamonds.

There’s no disputing that some jewelry went missing during Ms. Vanderwende’s brief incarceration in early 2016 during an arrest, but the appraisal and authenticity is very much in question.

A ring was listed on a receipt detailing Ms. Vanderwende’s personal items the DOC held at Baylor Women’s Correction Institution in New Castle while she was processed for charges related to a Milford bar brawl on Jan. 16, 2016.

When her property was returned on Jan. 18 upon her release, however, no ring was in the bag.

Hartly resident Glenda Vanderwende is pictured wearing an engagement ring she claims went missing while held by the Delaware Department of Correction in January. (Submitted photo/Vanderwende family)

For nearly a year since, the 47-year-old Hartly resident has sought compensation for a ring her fiancée’ supposedly bought from Kay Jewelers in 2009.

That includes numerous conversations with DOC officials and over 20 unsuccessful contacts with attorneys in Delaware who might take her case. Ms. Vanderwende said she struggles to keep organized all the paperwork – a few dozen items – accumulated during her quest.

Also, Ms. Vanderwende claims messages left with the Governor’s office and Delaware Department of Justice were not returned. She could not recall any specifics on the purported call to the DOJ, and said she tried with the Governor’s office sometime between January and July.

Earlier this week, DOJ spokesman Carl Kanefsky described the situation as “an issue between Ms. Vanderwende and the DOC. We are aware that they have had conversations regarding resolution of the issue.”

Also unsuccessful was an attempt at contacting the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, according to Ms. Vanderwende.
Earlier this week in a statement, the DOC indicated that the one grand offer remains.

“The DOC does not comment on pending, potential, or threatened litigation; however, a $1,000 offer was made in good faith and the Department will continue to stand by that amount,” spokeswoman Jayme Gravell replied to several questions from the media.

Costume or diamond?

Responding to an earlier letter from Ms. Vanderwende’s former attorney on June 30, Baylor WCI Warden Wendi Caple extended the ring reimbursement offer. Ms. Caple indicated the DOC hoped to “settle this matter and avoid formal litigation.

“To that end, the DOC is prepared to settle this matter for a lump sum payment of $[1,000] in exchange for a general release of any claims you or your fiancée may have relating to the ring.

“Please contact me to discuss this matter at your convenience.”

In the letter, Warden Caple acknowledged Ms. Vanderwende’s allegation that a ring was not returned upon release from Baylor WCI, and noted a Kay Jewelers receipt dated October 2009 showing a purchase for $1,999 and insurance of $139.99.

“The DOC has investigated this matter and has considered your demand,” Warden Caple wrote.

“Unfortunately, the DOC is unable to confirm that the ring you placed into property was the ring reflected in the receipt.”

Ms. Vanderwende said she contacted the DOC and declined the offer.

Earlier, on March 19, attorney Phillip G. Johnson wrote a letter to DOC Bureau of Prisons Chief Christopher Klein outlining Ms. Vanderwende’s concerns and request for resolution.

Mr. Johnson called the DOC’s supposed “costume jewelry” description of the ring as, “demonstrably untrue, and that he ring had depreciated, because she had the ring for seven years – a statement that is just silly on the face.”

The letter asked for $2,139.98 from the DOC or the ring returned, and Ms. Vanderwende said documents backing her claims were enclosed. Last week, Ms. Vanderwende said she believed a retail price of $2,839 should be reimbursed.

Items returned to Ms. Vanderwende during her brief prison stay included black jeans, belt, bra, panties and boots, a tan sweater, white socks and a top, pantyhose, jewelry and a red camera, according to DOC paperwork. Included on the receipt was an “s/t ring.”

The items were first collected at Sussex Correctional Institution before transfer to Baylor WCI with the arrestees, according to Mr. Johnson’s letter.

The $1,000 offer

Fiancée’/boyfriend Don Demby, 52, who purchased the ring in question says it symbolizes “moving on with my life and committing to do it with her.”
Mr. Demby said he didn’t consider the ring missing, but stolen.

“To tell her it’s not what she says it is false lie,” he said. “I think there’s something being covered up or they just don’t want to deal with it.”

The $1,000 offer seemed like a “slap in the face” Mr. Demby said, and “not worth my time really. It’s like they’re admitting they’re guilty and here’s $1,000 to take care of it.”

Describing her infatuation for the ring, Ms. Vanderwende maintains there’s no way she would ever not wear it on a night out.

“Everyone who knows me knows I do not take it off,” she said. “I love that ring, and I only take it off when I’m at Kays having it looked at.”

It’s still unsettling to look at his fiancée’s ringless finger, Mr. Demby said.

“She believes and knows what I feel and when I look at her hand and it’s not there I know how she feels,” Mr. Demby said.

At one point, according to Mr. Johnson’s letter, DOC staff told Ms. Vanderwende there would be no reimbursement at all. Also, the letter maintained, a DOC staffer said video security tapes were reviewed but offered no other information.

According to Ms. Vanderwende, she last communicated with the DOC in early November and is at a loss what to do next.

“Attorneys told me this isn’t something they would go up against and referred me to other lawyers,” she said.

Pursuing the case herself would be too costly, said Ms. Vanderwende, who is unemployed and awaiting a disability claim. According to her research there could be a $100 filing fee and $10 each to subpoena four to five correction officers, among other fees.

“I can’t afford it,” she said.

Also, Ms. Vanderwende alleged the DOC told her it couldn’t provide the names of any correctional officers involved during the night in question and “told me I had to do it myself.”

Regardless, Ms. Vanderwende plans to marry her fiancée Mr. Demby in August 2017. It’s her first marriage after being a single mother for 13 years.
“I’m not just going to go out and buy another ring,” she said. “That’s my ring and that’s the one I’m going to get married with.”

Rough night out

The saga unfolded when Ms. Vanderwende met her fiancée’ and two other friends at Park Place Restaurant and Lounge in Milford on Jan. 17.
Eventually, a scrap between a woman at the bar, Ms. Vanderwende and her friend erupted in an outside patio area where they were smoking and having a conversation, she said.

Ms. Vanderwende said she’d had one beer in about 45 minutes and was in the process of getting a second. She claimed to attempt to make peace after the other woman, according to her, allegedly poured a beer over her friend’s head. According to Ms. Vanderwende, the other woman had once dated her friend’s current boyfriend and tension mounted.

A two on one fight broke out with beer bottles as weapons, Ms. Vanderwende said, The other women suffered cuts, and Ms. Vanderwende and her friend were arrested by Milford Police who were called to the scene.

After being handcuffed, Ms. Vanderwende said she and her friend were transported to the Milford Police Department for processing on the charges. They were handcuffed to a wall while sitting on a bench there.

Ms. Vanderwende said she refused to take an intoxilyzer test because she wasn’t drunk, and signed a paper saying she didn’t agree with law enforcement’s actions.

A trip to Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown followed, and two female DOC guards arrived after several hours to take the handcuffed, shackled friends to Baylor WCI, according to Ms. Vanderwende.

Ms. Vanderwende estimated they arrived at Baylor WCI at 11:30 a.m., where their possessions were taken by the DOC to hold until they were free to leave. Another long night followed, and Ms. Vanderwende estimated they were called before a judge for a video arraignment about 9 p.m.

According to Ms. Vanderwende, she was released and went to booking and receiving for her personal items. She alleged that staff told her there was nobody present who could open the safe for the valuables and she should come back for them at a later date.

Ms. Vanderwende said she returned to Baylor WCI the next day and was handed a bag with a camera inside, but no ring.

On July 6, Ms. Vanderwende was convicted in Kent County Superior Court on two counts of offensive touching and a disorderly conduct charge. She was placed on probation by Resident Judge William L. Witham and ordered into anger management treatment as directed,

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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