Widow of slain correctional officer refuses to meet with governor

Delaware state troopers and police officers lead the funeral procession for slain correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd Saturday. Delaware State News photo by Marc Clery

DOVER — The widow of a prison guard killed during an inmate uprising at Delaware’s maximum security prison is refusing to meet with Gov. John Carney.

In a statement released by her attorney Wednesday, Saundra Floyd instead urged Carney to respond to demands of her family for the autopsy report on Steven Floyd and details on how he died.

“Today the governor’s office called me and asked if he could stop by this Friday to see how my family is doing. But actions speak louder than words, so my answer to that is no,” the statement read. “Just reply privately or publicly to my demand for the release of the autopsy of my husband. How did he die? Did he suffer greatly, or did he pass quickly? Was he tortured? Was he stabbed 100 times, as we have heard? Did he die in a great pool of blood, as is rumored?”

The statement, issued by attorney Thomas Neuberger, also indicated that the state is seeking reimbursement for what Neuberger described as thousands of dollars for Floyd’s funeral expenses, paid with workers compensation funds.

“They’re playing hardball,” said Neuberger, who has threatened to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Floyd’s family.

“Mr. Neuberger has already suggested he plans to sue the state, and seems intent on trying his case in the press,” Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey said. “Considering potential legal action, it would be inappropriate to address his questions publicly. The governor hoped to meet with the Floyd family to check in and offer his continued thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. He still hopes to do so.”

Last month, inmates took four correctional workers hostage at Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, setting off a nearly 20-hour standoff during which Floyd was killed. The siege ended when tactical teams used a backhoe to breach the building and rescue a female counselor after two other guards had been released.

Through the statement issued by Neuberger, Mrs. Floyd claimed that her husband died because state officials have failed to follow several recommendations issued by a task force in 2005 after a female counselor at the Smyrna prison was taken hostage and raped by a serial rapist, who was later shot to death by a tactical response officer.

The recommendations included providing correctional officers with better training and supervision, enhancing video surveillance and other equipment, and eliminating the heavy use of overtime because of chronic staffing shortages.

Carney said earlier this week that his fiscal 2018 budget proposal will include $2.3 million to hire 50 new guards at Vaughn Correctional Center and 25 new guards at the Baylor women’s prison in New Castle. He also is proposing $1.2 million in new spending next year for equipment, and additional funding for training and recruitment.

In the meantime, administration officials are allocating about $341,000 for immediate equipment purchases and are planning to increase security sweeps at Vaughn.

Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, has said that if there had been the proper amount of staffing at the Vaughn prison, inmates would not have been able to overpower correctional officers and take control of a building.

“We are absolutely at a breaking point at that facility when it comes to staffing,” Klopp said Wednesday at a meeting of the House Corrections Committee.

Klopp reiterated a list of priorities for the correctional officers union, including a complete staffing analysis of all prison facilities and a complete overhaul of the salary structure for prison guards.

The union is also calling for additional overtime and hazardous duty pay, and monthly paid training days.

Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps, who has said little publicly since the uprising, said the department is already working on a staffing analysis and other issues raised by the union. He also assured committee chairman James Johnson, D-New Castle, that DOC is working to prevent a recurrence of last month’s incident, but he said he could not speak about specific security measures.

“Are we where everyone would like to be? No,” he said. “Are we trying to get there? Yes.”

Phelps, a former prison guard himself, also pledged to do everything he can to take care of correctional officers, saying they deserve “way more respect than they get.”

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