Vaughn’s C Building, site of deadly prison riot, to be demolished

The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

SMYRNA — C Building in James T. Vaughn Correctional Center has sat vacant since the inmate uprising that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead there on Feb. 1 2017. After the riot was quelled, inmates previously housed there were moved to other facilities. Ever since, staff claim the building’s shell has stood as a grim reminder of the day.

However, it’s now slated for demolition, according the Delaware Department of Correction (DOC). They anticipate starting that project in the fall.

“Department of Correction officers and supervisors who went to work on Feb. 1, 2017, or assisted in the response, have been reminded on a daily basis of the horrifying actions that happened on that day,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement. “The building is a constant reminder of the senseless, brutal murder of one DOC’s dedicated public servants – Lieutenant Floyd. To remove the building from the complex will aid in mental and emotional health of officers who work at JTVCC every day. It’s the right thing to do.”

In a statement, DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps said that as the agency continues to honor the sacrifice, courage and service of Lt. Floyd, demolishing C Building will demonstrate that the Vaughn correctional center is moving forward and cultivating a new culture for the future.

“The presence of C Building at JTVCC only serves as a constant reminder of the tragedy that occurred on Feb. 1 that senselessly took the life of one of our family members,” he said in a statement. “Demolishing the building will serve as a point forward in the healing process and enable the staff at JTVCC to become stronger and stronger as each new day passes.”

Warden Dana Metzger, who was named Warden of the facility last July, noted that the tearing down of C Building would help continue to move the facility forward.

‘Antiquated and dilapidated’

Though administrators claim high motives, some say C Building’s demolition is also perhaps a practical measure because of its design and condition — even before the Feb. 1 incident.

Sixth District Kent County Levy Court Commissioner, Glen Howell, worked in C Building as an inmate teacher before his retirement in 2017. Remarkably, Mr. Howell’s final day of work, after a 29-year career with the DOC, was on Jan. 31 — a day before the uprising took place. Leaving that evening, Mr. Howell notes that it was actually Lt. Floyd who let him out of the building.

Though he enjoyed the work, Mr. Howell found the posting in C Building “insulting” to staff because of the working conditions.

“The administration had made a decision to move our classrooms out of MHU (Maximum Housing Unit) and use the rooms for a type of medical facility,” he said. “There was no room in the education building so they put us in C and B buildings. By its condition, it was obvious that C Building had been around for a long time. With the way it was set up, it worked for inmates, but to bring professional staff in there was kind of an insult. We just had to take it in stride.”

Mr. Howell claims the building wasn’t conducive to the activities taking place there.

“My classroom door didn’t even have a doorknob on it and it was right across from the chow hall — it must have been broken at some point and never replaced,” said Mr. Howell. “The window behind my desk backed up to the recreation area, so guys would always be walking up to it. Back in the MHU, when we were off duty, we were totally isolated from the inmates. In C Building, we couldn’t get away from them. I remember hearing a colleague once say that if she had to work over there, she’d quit.”

Recalling the much newer MHU building, Mr. Howell says the door was locked during class periods and he has access to a duress bell he could ring if a disturbance in the classroom were to take place. Had he not serendipitously retired the day before and left C Building, he says he too would have quickly become a hostage during the incident.

“There was no doorknob so there was no way to lock myself in the classroom if there was a riot,” he said. “If I had been there on the day of the uprising, I’d have had no defense and nowhere to go.”

Correctional Officers Association of Delaware (COAD) president Geoff Klopp said when the DOC solicited the union’s opinion on the demolition of the building, their answer was clear.

“I basically said I’d never ask one of my officers to go in there and work,” he said. “You can’t really ask someone to go back in there after this can you? It’s a terrible reminder of what happened that day and it’s been antiquated and dilapidated for awhile now.”

Demolition

According to the DOC, the 12,700-square-foot C Building was part of the original Level V correctional facility when it was constructed in 1971. It previously housed up to 135 medium-security inmates.

With authorization and funding from the Fiscal Year 2018 Bond Bill, DOC hired the Delaware office of engineering firm TetraTech to assess the cost to demolish C Building. DOC expects to start demolition with funding approved in the FY19 Bond Bill.

The Associated Press reported that last year’s capital budget included a $1 million reserve in contingency funding for repairs, rehabilitation, and/or reconstruction at Building C. The current capital budget includes $2 million in similar funding, but neither bill mentions demolition.

As of Monday afternoon, the DOC didn’t confirm what will take the building’s place once it’s demolished, but Mr. Klopp said he believes the plan is to build a new facility.

“The demolition is a good thing, a step in the right direction — we look forward to seeing a more modern and useful correctional housing building in the space where it was,” he said. “That’s the plan from what we’ve heard. The administration has formed a committee to look into it. There is still some newer infrastructure, like the boiler, underground that they’re probably going to try to save.”

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

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