Delaware Public Media

Gov. Carney taps former judges to lead review of prison standoff

Feb 14, 2017

Gov. John Carney (D) is appointing two former judges to lead an independent review of what sparked a prison hostage crisis earlier this month that left one correctional officer dead.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Henry duPont Ridgley and William Chapman Jr., a former Family Court Judge will spearhead the effort following the end of a criminal investigation.

The scope of the independent investigation will focus on any conditions that may have led to the standoff and any recommendations to boost security at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.

“We will take this report seriously and act with urgency to improve the security of our correctional facilities and ensure the safety of our employees,” Carney said.

During the crisis, inmates demanded better training for officers, as well as more educational and rehabilitation programs so they can better integrate with society after serving their sentences.

It’s unclear when Delaware State Police will finish its criminal inquiry into the incident. A spokesman said the investigation is active and ongoing at this time, but said no timeline is currently available.

An initial report with any recommendations is due to Carney by June 1 regardless of when the review itself gets underway. The executive order he signed Tuesday mandates a full report on his desk in August.

"Governor Carney fully anticipates the report will be ready by Aug. 15," said Jonathan Starkey, a spokesperson for the governor.

Last week, civil rights leaders demanded federal oversight of any review over fears of a state "cover up," but Carney says a criminal investigation, internal affairs investigation and this independent review is sufficient.

"That's a lot of eyes looking at it," he said.

Shortly after Carney’s press conference, members of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware noted they wanted more of a say in the review.

Geoff Klopp, president of the union, said he is prepared to undertake his own investigation if they don’t feel this review “…is going in the proper direction.”

17 prison guard have quit or retired early since the standoff, according to Klopp.

He has repeatedly argued that correctional officers are paid too little to attract enough people to properly staff each prison. Delaware homeland security officials say there are about 90 vacancies statewide on any given day.

Guards starting salaries total $32,000, with a hazard stipend and mandatory overtime adding to that total.

“For the pay and the risk and the fact that Lt. Steven Floyd had to be murdered for us to get here to try and make some change I can understand people feeling that way.”

Klopp and other representatives will meet with Doug Gramiak, Carney’s chief of staff, in the near future.

“We’re not going to stand just for another panel and another big book to be sent out and for legislators and folks not to take action.

So far, all 120 inmates held in Building C are suspects in the Feb. 1 standoff.

Sgt. Steven Floyd, who was posthumously promoted to lieutenant, died of an unknown trauma during the 19-hour incident. His family held two memorials before burying Floyd this past Saturday in a private ceremony.

Three other correctional employees held hostage were treated and released from the hospital.