Prison officer killed in siege

 

Correctional officers mourn Thursday following Sgt. Steven Floyd’s death during a Vaughn Correctional Center siege. See stories and photos, Pages 5-13.
(Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

SMYRNA — Using a backhoe to break through a barricade of water-filled footlockers, tactical teams rescued a female counselor and found a male correctional officer dead Thursday morning after a 19-hour standoff with inmates at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

Sgt. Steven R. Floyd, 47, of Dover, was unresponsive when corrections and state police teams entered the building.

Two other hostages who were severely beaten were released earlier during the ordeal, which took place in Building C, a unit that houses about 120 inmates in transition from medium to maximum security incarceration. Officials said inmates were armed with sharp instruments and used an officers’ radio to communicate with negotiators.

The counselor was not injured and officials said that some inmates may have been actively “shielding” her from harm.

Late Wednesday night, three maintenance workers who had been hiding in the basement of the facility and had gone undetected by the inmates were able to escape to the roof and be rescued.

A union leader said the fallen veteran officer was a loving husband, father, grandfather, mentor and champion who realized the trap inmates were setting Wednesday when he was overtaken in a closet and warned off responding correctional officers.

“Sgt. Steven Floyd Sr. saved lives in an emergency situation in Charlie building at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center,” said Correctional Officers Association of Delaware President Geoff Klopp.

Gov. John Carney gets emotional as he makes remarks at a press conference at Delaware State Police Troop 2 in Glasgow. Special to Delaware State News/Doug Curran

Mr. Klopp said he believes inmates may have planned the attack after identifying weak areas in emergency response protocols.

“There have been recent dry runs at the facility where the inmates were testing and prodding to see where weak points are,” he said. “The inmates have a false code just to see what our response is going to be, just to test to see what’s going to happen so they can make adjustments for what they want to do in the future.”

Sgt. Floyd is the first correctional officer to die in the line of duty in the department’s history, Mr. Klopp said.

Commissioner of the Delaware Department of Correction Perry Phelps said, “It is with great sadness that I stand before you today and announce the events that happened in the past 24 hours. We lost one of our family members and it pains my heart to make these statements.”

Commissioner Phelps, who took that job in January after serving as deputy commissioner since January 2015 and warden of Vaughan from 2008 to 2013, made the comments at a Thursday morning press conference, where officials described the hostage crisis and resolution.

After breaching the building at approximately 5:06 a.m., DOC and Delaware State Police tactical team members located the female corrections counselor within two minutes and evacuated her safely from the building.

Officials confirmed that 16-year veteran Sgt. Floyd died sometime during the siege. He was pronounced dead at 5:29 a.m. The nature of his wounds and cause of death were not immediately disclosed as an autopsy followed. A procession of emergency vehicles accompanied the transport of Sgt. Floyd’s body to the medical examiner’s office in Wilmington Thursday afternoon.

Gov. John Carney said, “After a torturous ordeal that went through the night, we learned of Sgt. Floyd’s demise. My prayers all day yesterday were that this event would end with a different result. But it didn’t. So today we mourn the family of Sgt. Floyd.”

Though groups of inmates exited Building C during the standoff before the final breach, Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Secretary Robert Coupe noted that he would not describe them as being released.

The former corrections commissioner said all 120 inmates present during the incident would be treated as suspects as the investigation continued.

Siege detailed

The takeover began at approximately 10:30 a.m. Wednesday when the inmates took four correctional workers — three officers and a counselor — hostage. The first hostage was released at 2:25 p.m., the second at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Fourteen inmates left the building at around 12:30 a.m. Thursday, leaving 82 prisoners remaining inside.

Negotiators spoke with inmates via a radio taken from a correctional officer hostage, Mr. Coupe said.

The decision to bust into the barricaded building came when negotiation experts determined that there was significant stalling and fear for the remaining hostage’s well being was rising, Mr. Coupe said during the Thursday morning press conference at Troop 2 in Glasgow.

Earlier in negotiations, the inmates had bargained to have the water in Building C turned back on so they could “hydrate” and for hygiene purposes, but they instead used the water to fill footlockers to add weight and blocked entryways with them, officials said.

Mr. Coupe said the footlockers are available for inmates to purchase. Each is 18 inches by 24 inches by 18 inches.

At one point, inmates communicated on the Internet, which law enforcement restricted after learning of it.

A breaching vehicle being provided by the Maryland State Police was en route, but the urgency of the situation called for immediate action, officials said. That’s when the DOC team used a backhoe to gain entry.

“That was how we attacked the walls that were built,” Mr. Coupe said. “It knocked it down and our tactical teams entered and those tactical teams quickly located our female staff member and had her removed safely from the building in less than two minutes.

“We’re happy to say she was not injured in this ordeal and I would go as far as to say that there were inmates who actually shielded this victim and ensured her safety.”

A few minutes later, the tactical team located Sgt. Floyd and he was unresponsive.

Mr. Coupe said he was “not at liberty” to divulge the cause of Sgt. Floyd’s death Thursday morning.

The 120 inmates were examined medically, searched and then secured in another facility. None of them had “reportable” injuries, said Mr. Coupe.

“Right now we are processing the crime scene, which is that entire building,” he said, adding that DOC will be cooperating with the Attorney General to ensure that the responsible parties are “brought to justice.”

“At this time, I’m not able to give you a motive for the attack,” Mr. Coupe said in the morning press conference. “And, I’m not able to give you a description of the weapons other than to tell you that some had sharp instruments.”

Also taking part in the response was the FBI, Wilmington Police, and numerous fire and EMS units.

Building C is a transitional building for inmates going through the prison’s disciplinary process — either inmates from lower security being transitioned up to higher or vice versa, officials explained.

The Delaware Department of Correction put Vaughn, and all other Level 5 prisons in the state, on lockdown when the event began.

According to the Department of Correction website, Vaughn Correctional Center is the state’s largest adult, male correctional facility and houses approximately 2,500 inmates.

The facility houses minimum, medium, and maximum security inmates and is the primary facility for housing the Kent County pre-trial (detainee) population.

‘We are accountable’

Responding to questions at the press conference about the facility being short staffed, Mr. Coupe noted that the DOC has roughly 1,700 positions and on any given day they typically carry 90 vacancies. This shortfall is made up through overtime and canceling programs and visitations when necessary, Mr. Coupe explained.

As far as taking responsibility for the prison hostage situation, Mr. Coupe said that it belonged with him and Delaware Correctional Commissioner Perry Phelps.

“We are accountable, we own this,” he said.

At the press conference, Gov. John Carney said, “It’s a very sad day across the state of Delaware with the loss of one of our brave correctional officers. While today we mourn, we have to investigate what happened here and determine the facts so we can make sure it never happens again.”

He ordered flags in the state to be flown at half staff to show respect for the deceased officer.

The last major incident occurred at Vaughn in 2004 when a 27-year-old prison counselor was abducted and raped by inmate Scott A. Miller at the Delaware Correctional Center near Smyrna. Miller was eventually shot and killed by a correctional officer after a nearly seven-hour standoff.

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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