Judge: DOC supervisors could be held liable in security advisor’s sex case

WILMINGTON — Department of Correction supervisors could be liable for the actions of a former security advisor convicted after alleged sexual relations with an inmate in 2015, according to a 15-page court order Tuesday.

The promotion of Fred Way III through the ranks despite a checkered past was not grossly negligent by officials, Superior Court Judge Andrea L. Rocanelli also ruled regarding a civil lawsuit filed by the inmate afterward.

The decision kept claims against Delores J. Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution Warden Wendi Caple, Officer Ramone Taylor and Counselor Faith Levy alive.

Way pleaded guilty to four counts of official misconduct on Jan. 11, 2016 and two charges of sexual relations in a detention center were dropped. He was sentenced to seven days incarceration, followed by three months home confinement on April 2, 2016.

Plaintiff Chakirra Wonnum included Way in the lawsuit as well.

Citing Delaware Code, Judge Rocanelli maintained that while promoting Way “may seem ill-advised with the benefit of hindsight,” prison officials did not grossly deviate from the “standard of conduct that a [reasonable prison] official would observe.”

In her lawsuit, according to the order, Ms. Wonnum referenced Way’s supposed criminal history and misconduct including:

• A 2002 criminal conviction for driving under the influence.

• A 2002 criminal charge for disorderly conduct.

• A 2003 civil judgment against Way for improper retaliation and excessive force against an inmate he supervised.

• A 2004 criminal charge for driving without a license, while Way pleaded not guilty to after initially failing to appear for court.

Regarding Way’s alleged actions once at the Baylor prison, however, the judge decided a case could potentially be made that the defendants failed to meet policy standards “by allowing and/or failing to prevent (Way’s) unsupervised interactions with (Ms. Wonnum) in (his) office.”

Warden Caple, Officer Taylor and Counselor Levy could have “either had knowledge or were on notice of the encounters between (Wonnum and Way) such that dismissal of (Wonnum’s) claims on the pleadings to Superior Court Civil rules is inappropriate …”

Based on the circumstances, the Court found that the defendants might not be covered by qualified immunity from civil liability afforded state employees.

A bid to add three additional DOC officials connected to Way’s promotion and assignment was denied based on qualified immunity.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Way and the other plaintiffs and seeks attorneys’ fees, costs and pre- and post-judgment interest. Attorney Raeann Warner is representing Ms. Wonnum.

Attorney Charles Toliver is serving as Mr. Way’s counsel, while Deputy Attorneys General Joseph Handlon and Roopa Sabesan are representing the DOC employees.

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