Vaughn inmates file lawsuit against state officials

WILMINGTON — As trial continued for three inmates charged with murder after an insurrection at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna last year nearly 120 more prisoners are part of a lawsuit filed Wednesday against state officials alleging “inhumane conditions” within the facility.

For many years prior to the takeover on Feb. 1, 2017, that left Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd dead, according to the complaint, JTVCC and other DOC prisons allegedly had some COs “who illegally abused, mistreated, and tortured inmates with virtually nothing being done by their JTVCC or DOC supervisors, to stop them.

“Inmates and others repeatedly complained about abuse, the increasingly unavailable healthcare, and the increasing scarcity of education, rehabilitation, and recreation options for inmates.”

Delaware Gov. John Carney and ex-DOC Commissioner Robert Coupe were among the defendants named in the suit, along with current commissioner Perry Phelps, several wardens and a host of other DOC staff from a Major to COs.

The governor’s Communications Director Jonathan Starkey declined comment, explaining, “As a general matter, we don’t comment on active litigation.”

Spokeswoman Jayme Gravell said, “The DOC doesn’t comment on active litigation.”

A jury trial was requested.

“The officials in Delaware who should have been protecting inmates and correctional officers from the danger of out of control prisons, did nothing to protect either group,” the 80-page lawsuit filed in New Castle County Superior Court by Dover-based attorney Stephen A. Hampton stated.

According to the attorney, men have supposedly been “tortured and mistreated” since the revolt.

“Our hope is that shedding some light on what the defendants have done will perhaps affect how they behave in the future, although I’m not going to hold my breath,” Mr. Hampton said. “We know that inmates at JTVCC are still being harassed and sometimes abused by the COs, if it is believed they are part of this complaint.”

Besides the supposed culture within prison walls, the lawsuit claimed elected officials overseeing the facilities “including governors, ignored all of the complaints that the Department of Correction was simply warehousing inmates, allowing correctional officers to abuse them, providing them with very little rehabilitation or education, and denying them adequate healthcare for serious injuries and illnesses.”

According to the lawsuit, inmates made futile efforts to communicate their issues to state agencies “about the increasingly situation at JTVCC, that failure to listen to them made an incident like the revolt at (building) C-19 inevitable.

“JTVCC leadership was specifically warned that something bad was going to happen but did nothing.”

What’s needed, sought

The complaint asserted that while Gov. Carney’s initial plan to address prison conditions through $11.5 million spent on “modernizing equipment and hiring more correctional officers” was needed “they were not the primary cause of the revolt.”

Among their primary demands, inmates participating in the revolt “wanted better healthcare; more educational opportunities; rehabilitation services that were effective; and the end of the unjustified abuse and disrespect of inmates by (COs).”

Also sought was “the record-keeping department to be upgraded so that men would get released on the proper date, and not held long after they should have been released as has been happening for many years with DOC’s knowledge.”

Compensatory, consequential, and punitive damages are sought in an amount to be decided at trial, the lawsuit stated. Also requested is appointment of an independent monitor to supervise JTVCC or DOC, and report to the court.


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