Two ex-judges appointed to lead prison uprising review

Henry Ridgely

William Chapman

WILMINGTON — Gov. John Carney on Tuesday signed an executive order officially placing a former Delaware Supreme Court justice and former Family Court judge in charge of a review of Feb. 1’s inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

Henry Ridgely, who served on the state’s top court from 2004-15, and William Chapman, a Family Court judge from 1995-2015, are tasked with determining what occurred in the uprising that left one correctional officer dead, and what steps the state can take to keep its prisons safe.

“We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to find out exactly what happened inside Vaughn and what we can do prevent that from happening again,” Gov. Carney said in his Wilmington office, surrounded by media.

The Feb. 1 incident began around 10:30 a.m. when inmates took three correctional officers and one counselor hostage inside Building C.

Two of the hostages were released within the next 10 hours. But when correctional and police officers stormed the building shortly after 5 a.m. the next day, Steven R. Floyd, 47, was found dead.

The Delaware Division of Forensic Science later ruled his death a “homicide by trauma.” He is believed to be the first correctional officer to die during duty in Delaware.

Gov. Carney’s investigation, which the governor stressed will be “independent,” was announced last week. It is one of at least three that are either ongoing or scheduled. Delaware State Police investigators are conducting a criminal probe and the Department of Correction is looking into the matter internally.

The review ordered by the governor will not begin until the criminal probe concludes. A state police spokesman said Tuesday no timetable has been set for when the criminal inquiry will be completed.

The executive order signed by Gov. Carney mandates the Department of Correction and Department of Safety and Homeland Security work together for the review. Mr. Ridgely and Mr. Chapman have the ability to hire outside consultants, although any hires must first be approved by the governor.

A preliminary report is due June 1. Final conclusions are scheduled to be submitted to officials by Aug. 15.

Because the General Assembly is still in session in June, new laws resulting from the incident and the initial report could come this year.

However, the review falls short in the eyes of some Delawareans.

The Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice last week called for an independent review of the incident, just hours before Gov. Carney announced one would take place.
Coalition chairman Christopher Bullock said in a statement Tuesday that Gov. Carney’s actions were delayed and do not go far enough.

“We do not feel the state can investigate itself,” Mr. Bullock said.

The report produced by Mr. Ridgely and Mr. Chapman will likely detail staffing issues in the department. The Correctional Officers Association of Delaware has said for years the prisons are understaffed and guards are overworked.

Asked Tuesday if the review would look at conditions in the prison and alleged mistreatment of some inmates, Gov. Carney said it would primarily cover “anything that affected the security arrangements there at C Building that particular day.”

He declined to comment on what additional steps have been taken in the past two weeks.

“This has been a tough two weeks for us and I have to tell you I go to bed every night thinking about the security of those individuals that go into those institutions — really, that stand between us and folks that would do us harm — and worry about whether they have appropriate security measures in place,” he said.

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