Inmates charged in prison riot sue officials

SMYRNA — Nine of the inmates charged in the 2017 Vaughn prison riot are suing correction officials for alleged abuse and mistreatment during the uprising and in its wake.

The 18-page hand-written complaint lists Dwayne Staats, Jarreau Ayers, Roman Shankaras, Lawrence Michaels, Kevin Berry, Obadiah Miller, John Bramble, Abednego Baynes and Luis Sierra as plaintiffs.

Berry, Miller, Bramble and Baynes are all currently on trial for murder, kidnapping, riot, assault and conspiracy. Ayers and Staats both received guilty verdicts late last year — Ayers for kidnapping, riot, conspiracy and assault, Staats for all the above plus murder.

The complaint lists Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps, former James T. Vaughn Correctional Center warden David Pierce and other correction officials and officers as defendants.

The laundry list of allegations includes physical assault during the retaking of C Building (the site of the riot), poor/nonexistent medical treatment, a dysfunctional grievance system, destruction of personal property, mail tampering and general disregard and negligence for the inmates’ well-being.

The crux of the lawsuit rests on an alleged violation of the inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights — claiming that the behavior of prison staff has inflicted “cruel and unusual punishment on them.

The recently-filed lawsuit seeks acknowledgment of the constitutional violation, $300,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.

The nine men account for half of the original group charged in connection with the riot. Of the other nine, two — Royal Downs and Kelly Gibbs — pleaded guilty. Downs went on to be a key state witness against him co-defendants and Gibbs killed himself while awaiting trial, shortly after entering his guilty plea. Deric Forney was acquitted of all charges in November. He’s been added to a similar lawsuit filed on behalf of the over 100 inmates in C Building during the riot that makes similar claims.

It’s unclear why the remaining six charged inmates (all of whom are awaiting trial) did not join the lawsuit as well.

The DOC doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

The new lawsuit bears resemblance to one filed by Dover attorney Stephen Hampton in late October.

That 80-page complaint — filed on behalf of the other inmates in C Building not charged with crimes and Forney — outlines “inhumane conditions” at Vaughn and claims that for many years prior to the riot, prison personnel “illegally abused, mistreated and tortured inmates with virtually nothing being done by their JTVCC (Vaughn prison) or DOC supervisors, to stop them.”

Mr. Hampton said that originally the charged inmates weren’t included in the lawsuit because there was a “conflict of interest” between them and his clients — many of whom testified in court as state witnesses.

“The others are hostages and joining them with inmates accused of taking hostages is a clear conflict,” he said. “If they are acquitted I would have considered adding them to my complaint.”

Although he hasn’t reviewed it, Mr. Hampton says if the lawsuit rests on similar grounds as his, he believes it has merit.

He doesn’t suspect that the complaints have cross purposes.

“Their case probably won’t have much impact on my case,” he said.

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