Within a year, state’s four prisons get new wardens

DOVER — With the coming retirement of Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) warden G.R. Johnson and reassignment of Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution’s warden Wendi Caple last month, all four of the state’s prisons will have had their wardens changed in less than a year.

DOC spokeswoman Jayme Gravell confirmed that ex-warden Caple was reassigned to the Bureau of Community Corrections in October. Because “personnel matters are confidential,” Ms. Gravell declined to comment on the reason for the change.

Although it’s unknown if it’s connected to the reassignment, Ms. Caple and 12 other DOC officials are defendants in a lawsuit brought against a former Baylor security superintendent, Fred Way III. Way was convicted after alleged sexual relations with an inmate, plaintiff Chakirra Wonnum, in 2015. State attorneys were successful in having a portion of the lawsuit dismissed in July, but the court said Ms. Caple and other supervisors could still be partly liable for Way’s actions.

Ms. Gravell said deputy warden Shane Troxler has since stepped up as acting warden and there are currently no plans to post a the vacant warden position at Baylor.

As for Mr. Johnson’s replacement at SCI, today is the application deadline for the warden IV position in Georgetown. According to the DOC, Mr. Johnson recently submitted his retirement paperwork and will step down when his replacement is selected. He has served in the position since July 2010.

The job was posted the day before Thanksgiving — leaving four business days adjacent to the holiday weekend for qualified applicants to come forward. Ms. Gravell said that because leadership positions within the agency are advertised across many platforms in the state, the DOC considers the time period allotted to accept applications “appropriate.”

The position starts at a salary of $97,097 with hazardous duty pay of $4,620, according to the posting. The summary describes the position as operating and directing all administrative functions and institutional programs of a correctional facility housing 1,000-2,200 inmates at all security levels.

Once Mr. Johnson steps down, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center’s warden Lt. Col. Dana Metzger, hired in May, will become the state’s longes t actively servicing prison warden.

Howard R. Young Correctional Institution got its new warden in July when Major Kolawole Akinbayo was appointed to replace outgoing warden Steven Wesley. Mr. Wesley had held that position since June 2014. He was promoted to Bureau Chief of Prisons in May. According to the DOC, Mr. Akinbayo began his career as a correctional officer in 2005 and was most recently the security superintendent at Howard R. Young. The deputy warden position at Howard R. Young, currently being manned by acting deputy John Mitchell, is also vacant. Ms. Gravell says “interviews to permanently fill the position will be scheduled soon.”

Changes after Vaughn riot

Both Lt. Col. Metzger and Mr. Wesley stepped into their new positions due to several high-profile administrations changes in the wake of the deadly Feb. 1 inmate uprising at Vaughn that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead. About 20 days after the incident, Vaughn’s warden at the time, David Pierce, was reassigned. According to the DOC, Mr. Pierce was moved to the Bureau of Community Corrections. Mr. Pierce, now joined in that department by Ms. Caple, continues to receive his warden merit pay grade. He retains the merit title of Warden V at a salary of $109,595.64, according to the state’s budget office. Ms. Caple, who also keeps her merit title, received a salary of $83,355 on calendar year 2016, according to the budget office.
Mr. Wesley was able to step into his position as Bureau Chief of Prisons because former chief, Christopher Klein, was promoted in May to deputy principal assistant at the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security. He now serves under former-DOC commissioner Robert Coupe.

On Oct. 20, the DOC terminated the security superintendent at Vaughn during the incident, Jeffrey Carrothers.

It’s unknown if any of the firing or reassignments have anything to do with an ongoing DOC-lead internal affairs investigation into the causes of the Feb. 1 uprising.

“The internal investigation into the incident on February 1-2 is ongoing so the DOC cannot provide comment,” said Ms. Gravell.

The investigation’s completion date is also unknown, but stakeholders appear to be lining up to examine its findings.

The Correctional Officers Association of Delaware (COAD) noted that its members look forward to the completion of the investigation.

“We hope that those, internally, that made mistakes are held responsible,” said COAD president Geoff Klopp. “We haven’t been given any hard dates on when that’ll be; ‘soon’ is all we’ve heard.”

At a recent Council on Correction meeting, newly minted chairman Darryl Chambers said the advisory group has an interest in being informed about the investigation after its completion as well.

“I think that it’ll be in our best interest to see what the conclusions are from the investigation,” he said. “I think when the time is right and the circumstances permit, that we will ask Alan (Grinstead, deputy DOC commissioner) or Commissioner Perry Phelps or the governor himself that we be briefed on or be given a chance to see the high-level view of what’s happening. Possibly, some of the recommendations that come out of those things could dictate the direction we need to go as a council.”

Jonathan Starkey, a spokesman with the governor’s office, said Gov. Carney will eventually be briefed on the investigation.

“The internal investigation is being led by the DOC and the Governor will be briefed upon its conclusion,” said Mr. Starkey. “Along with the criminal investigation and the independent review, this is one of three investigations into the events of Feb. 1 and 2 at JTVCC. The governor is confident that we will end up with a comprehensive understanding of what happened.”

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