Lawyer: DOC negligence caused deaths of 2 inmates

DOVER — Dover attorney Stephen Hampton on Wednesday accused the Delaware Department of Correction (DOC) of negligent behavior that he believes led to the deaths of two inmates this month.

In October, Mr. Hampton had filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of more than 100 inmates housed in C Building, the site of last year’s riot at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

The 80-page complaint describes “inhumane conditions” at the prison and claims that for many years prior to the riot that left Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd dead, prison personnel “illegally abused, mistreated and tortured inmates with virtually nothing being done by their JTVCC (Vaughn prison) or DOC supervisors, to stop them.”

Both the DOC and Governor’s Office have declined to comment on the “active litigation.”

On Wednesday, claiming that inmate abuse is still ongoing, Mr. Hampton blamed DOC for the deaths of Luis Cabrera, 49, and Kelly Gibbs, 30.

The death of Gibbs was reported on Nov. 22 by DOC officials. It was noted that “no foul play was suspected.”

Gibbs was one of the 18 inmates accused of perpetrating last year’s riot. In its original news release, the DOC noted that Gibbs had just pleaded guilty to charges of riot, kidnapping and conspiracy in connection with the Feb. 1, 2017, incident.

Mr. Hampton claims Gibbs killed himself — something that could have been prevented if DOC had stuck to their own policies, he says.

“After the end of the first criminal trial, defendant Kelly Gibbs, who was awaiting trial on charges including murder, pleaded guilty to some lessor charges, and then was promptly moved to HRYCI (Howard R. Young Correctional Institution) and placed in the same tier with all of the inmate witnesses,” said Mr. Hampton in his statement Wednesday. “In doing so, DOC put him in a highly stressful and potentially dangerous situation, as the other inmates would have looked on Kelly with suspicion after he was allowed to plead to lesser charges.

“It is also known that inmates have a heightened risk of suicide in the days right after taking a plea to serious charges, especially so for Kelly who was most likely in a cell alone.

“Nevertheless, neither DOC or Connections (the DOC’s medical contractor) seems to have acted on this knowledge and took no extra precautions to prevent Kelly from committing suicide. It has been reported that he hung himself in his cell the night of November 21-22.”

Mr. Hampton alleges that his office heard of the suicide from inmates housed alongside Gibbs and from “attorney sources.” The DOC has not elaborated on Gibbs’s death, saying only that the Delaware State Police continue to investigate the incident and his body was turned over to the State Division of Forensic Science, as is standard procedure.

Cabrera, both a plaintiff in the civil lawsuit against the state and a potential witness in the ongoing criminal trial stemming from the riot, was found dead on Nov. 8, according to DOC officials.

Mr. Hampton claims that his 49-year-old client died of a perforated ulcer after being “denied medical treatment for more than a month.”

Referencing claims from Cabrera’s cellmate, Mr. Hampton says the inmate had been ill since mid-October.

“Luis’s cellmate, Cory Green remembers that Luis became sick on 10/17/18 with coughing, vomiting, and a fever,” said Mr. Hampton. “Luis put in a sick call slip and a grievance, but it took roughly 10 days before he was seen by the nurse. The nurse prescribed medication and told Luis he had fluid in his lungs. However, despite his repeated requests, Luis was not given the medication prescribed for him, nor seen again for his ongoing coughing with chest and abdominal pain.”

Mr. Hampton also claims to have discussed the circumstances of Cabrera’s death with his wife.

“According to the coroner, Luis had a ‘perforated bulge in his intestine’ which appears to have been the cause of death,” said Mr. Hampton. “A perforation usually happens over time as the ulcer eats away at the intestinal lining. When the ulcer perforates through the lining, the contents of the intestinal track spill into the abdominal cavity causing peritonitis, which is an infection of the lining of the abdominal cavity.

“Untreated peritonitis results in sepsis which, untreated, is fatal, as it was for Mr. Cabrera. Ulcers can be treated before perforation occurs if discovered by medical treating the patient. Even after perforation occurs, prompt surgical treatment can usually save the patient. Mr. Cabrera was denied care again and again by Connections’ employees, and DOC employees did not intervene even after he was so ill he could no longer stand. Luis only weighed approximately 130 pounds when he originally was housed on the tier, but subsequently had lost about 20 pounds before his death due to his illness and to poor food.”

DOC didn’t provide a cause of death for Cabrera, saying only in their original news release that his body was turned over to the State Division of Forensic Science, as is standard procedure and that foul play was not suspected.

On Wednesday, DOC spokeswoman Jayme Gravell said DOC wouldn’t comment on Cabrera because he was “part of a lawsuit.”

Mr. Hampton, who suggested the two recent deaths are a result of routine mistreatment of the inmates who were housed in C Building during the riot, said DOC commissioner Perry Phelps and Gov. John Carney have “not taken steps to curtail the violence or call for an unbiased investigation of the inmates’ charges of torture and ongoing abuse.

“Commissioner Phelps and Governor Carney also know or certainly should know that people are dying and suffering horribly in DOC prisons because of the lack of healthcare and the indifference of the correctional and medical staffs,” said Mr. Hampton.

“There are many inmates with serious medical conditions who are not receiving care for their conditions and DOC and Connections employees seem indifferent to their suffering and need for treatment.”

The Governor’s Office condemned Mr. Hampton’s public accusation late Wednesday afternoon.

“Mr. Hampton has filed a lawsuit against the state and clearly has an interest in litigating that case in the newspaper. We don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Jonathan Starkey, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office.

“As we’ve said all along, Gov. Carney takes any allegations of abuse seriously, and any suggestion otherwise is false. Because the matter is now in the courts there will be no further comment at this time.”

 

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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