Inmate accused of assaulting guards killed toddler in 2011

Jonatan O. Rodriguez

GEORGETOWN — An inmate accused of assaulting four correctional officers at a Sussex prison — who also faces murder charges in the death of a correctional officer last year — is currently serving a 40-year sentence for beating a 2-year-old girl to death in Wilmington in 2011, authorities said.

Jonatan O. Rodriguez, 26, is one of 16 inmates charged with the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd during the inmate uprising on Feb. 1, 2017, at James. T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

He allegedly attacked the four correctional officers at Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) in Georgetown on Friday with one of the officers requiring medical attention at a nearby hospital.

The Delaware State News reported last October that the 16 inmates charged in the fatal Feb. 1 riot were transferred out of Vaughn prison sometime after the uprising.

Half of the inmates were moved to Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington and the others to SCI.

The DOC has declined to comment about reasons for the transfers.

According to court documents, Rodriguez is serving his current sentence for beating his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter to death. The victim’s 4-year-old sister, who witnessed the slaying, said Rodriguez was beating the toddler because she had diarrhea.

Assault at SCI

Around 10 p.m. on Friday, Rodriguez was refusing to return to his assigned cell, according to the arrest affidavit.

After allegedly ignoring several commands by correctional staff, Rodriguez struck out with closed fists and caused several injuries to the officers trying to subdue him.

The officers’ names have been redacted from the report, but one sustained a facial injury and broken glasses and another sustained “ligament damage to his right hand.”

Officers were evaluated and treated at a local medical facility after the incident, according to the document.

Charges resulting from the incident include two counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief. Bond was set at $2.5 million with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Feb. 1 — exactly one year after the deadly Vaughn prison riot.

“Ironically, the inmate involved in this battle was also involved in the Floyd case, being transferred to SCI after the murder of Steven Floyd,” Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Associated of Delaware (COAD) said Monday. “It just goes to show you just can’t move your problems around. They always pop up, wherever they go,”

Rodriguez was a resident of the maximum security unit and had been performing “duties” on the tier at the time of the assault, Mr. Klopp added. After the officers subdued Rodriguez, they returned him to his cell uninjured, Mr. Klopp said.

It’s unclear why an inmate charged with murder and rioting was out of his cell and performing “duties.”

The DOC confirmed an inmate was involved in the assault on correctional officers, but refused to relay further details as an “investigation into the incident is ongoing.”

Prison understaffing

Geoff Klopp

Mr. Klopp continues to point to an “understaffing crisis” and onerous overtime obligations as the primary cause of the DOC’s problems.

“The effects of the murder of Steven Floyd are still being felt throughout the corrections system in Delaware,” Mr. Klopp said. “SCI was not properly staffed to handle this situation. Roving security is never in the right place at the right time, no matter how hard we try.

“The same problem persists — we need corrections officers in every facility and there is only one way to get them: pay them what the position and the work requires. Give them a reason to stay once they’re here. Protect them while they’re here.”

Last year, the governor and legislature secured a starting salary boost for correctional officers up to $40,000. It’s set to rise again to $43,000 in July. The Governor’s Office also touts a “historic” $21.6 million investment in the DOC over FY2018 in equipment, cameras and recruitment.

Pointing out that the DOC has at least 100 fewer correctional officers than it did last Feb. 1, Mr. Klopp said policy changes and investments haven’t gone far enough.

“While we deeply appreciate what the governor has said about salary increases and the use of technology, that alone is not the answer,” Mr. Klopp has said.

“Let’s face it: As long as Delaware continues to incarcerate people at the rate it does, change in the DOC should be the top priority.”

Mr. Klopp said that starting salaries should come up to at least $47,000 per year, their pension multiplier should be altered to match that of Delaware State Police Officers and the state should consider a sign-on bonus if it hopes to start moving the staffing needle in the right direction.

In early January the DOC reported 270 correctional officer position vacancies.

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