Prison counselor included in Vaughn riot settlement

 

WILMINGTON — Although she never officially filed a federal complaint a counselor held hostage during the Vaughn prison uprising in February will be among the 11 claimants receiving part of a $7.5 million lawsuit settlement, state officials said Friday.

Patricia May was not mentioned by name in the joint news release circulated by former federal Judge Joseph J. Farnan, Jr. last week.

But, according to the state’s “settlement agreement and release” document, she will be receiving money and agreeing to the settlement’s terms.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Wilmington lawyers Thomas Neuberger and Tom Crumplar in April on behalf of 10 defendants: the estate of Lt. Steven Floyd, the correction officer killed in the riot, his widow and three children, and five other officers who were held hostage during the incident.

Much of the complaint rested on the state’s alleged failure to provide a safe working environment for its employees and long ignored staffing issues within the DOC and how these failures led to the incident on Feb. 1.

In early July, lawyers representing state officials filed a brief that argued to convince judges to dismiss the case, claiming there’s no constitutional right to workplace safety.

An oral argument had been scheduled for Nov. 20 so U.S. District Court Judge Richard Andrews could review the claims and decide whether or not the lawsuit should be allowed to proceed.

However, the state requested the argument be postponed on Nov. 16, and settled out of court about a month later. They chose not to wait for the opportunity to lay the case before Judge Andrews.

Nov. 16 was the same day a news conference to announce the filing of a new federal complaint by Ms. May was canceled.

When asked about the news conference, Mr. Neuberger, who is representing Ms. May separately, confirmed it was canceled but didn’t comment further.

Managers at The Westin Wilmington hotel said on Nov. 16 their Caesar Rodney Room had been reserved for a news conference that was subsequently canceled.

According to the settlement agreement, Ms. May filed a “demand for settlement” with the state on Oct. 6. With it, she “advised her intention to pursue claims based thereon, including claims relating to injuries and damages she allegedly sustained while employed by the DOC when she was taken hostage and held captive” on Feb. 1-2.

By accepting the settlement terms on Friday, Ms. May agreed not to file her planned lawsuit and any future ones based on the prison riot.

Settlement payout

Although unclear what portion of the settlement funds Ms. May will receive, she was listed among the workers’ compensation claimants in the settlement agreement.

Under the schedule of benefits enclosed in the agreement, it’s noted the state “confirms that Ms. May has 20 years, 8 months and 29 days of creditable state service” and that on or before Jan. 15, 2018 she’ll make arrangements with the state to voluntarily retire on or before Feb. 16, 2018. The agreement says she’ll be entitled to her pension and retirement health benefits.

An unusual passage in Ms. May’s benefit summary states: “The DOC will cause to be reinstated the sick days used (if any) during the time when Ms. May was held hostage by inmates during the prison uprising of Feb. 1-2.”

This clause is specific to Ms. May and does not apply to the other DOC employee claimants.

It’s unclear if this implies that Ms. May had to use “sick days” while being held hostage during the inmate uprising.

Mr. Neuberger declined to comment on the contents of Ms. May’s canceled federal complaint and the terms of her settlement.

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

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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