Unfortunately, this was inevitable. Because the guards who beat inmates, then denied them medical care, and otherwise abused them, wore their “goon squad” uniforms – full facial coverage – and wore no badges or names, it was impossible to prove who did what to whom. Damn shame.
Here again we see that DOC officials cannot be believed: Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis, who took over the department in the summer of 2019, and other defendants denied the allegations in court. DeMatteis has said that no abuse occurred following the uprising. … Bullshit; If they had not intended to commit crimes and other abuses, why did the guards conceal their identity and prevent the filming of their conduct?
Excerpts from the Article:
Since the 2017 fatal riot inside a building at Delaware’s largest prison, dozens of inmates that were in that building have said in court, lawsuits, interviews and letters that they were assaulted and deprived of basic rights in the hours and months after by corrections officials.
And since then, those claims have been the thrust of lawsuits meandering slowly through local courts. Those challenges seek recompense for injuries suffered by prisoners that said they too were hostages when control of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center’s C Building was violently overthrown by a smaller set of prisoners.
Last week, a federal judge in Wilmington dismissed the largest lawsuit making such claims, a complaint that sought damages on behalf of 107 inmates against 52 defendants, including at times Gov. John Carney, top Department of Correction leadership and a host of officers.
That lawsuit largely focused on what happened after a team of inmates used coordinated violence to take the building’s three officers and a counselor hostage, kill one of those officers and hold the building for 18 hours starting on Feb. 1, 2017.
The lawsuit claims that officers retaking the building wore black masks, hid their name tags and went cell to cell, delivering indiscriminate kicks, punches and racial slurs to inmates while encountering no resistance from those still in the building.
It claims the police deliberately decided not to record the retaking of the building and denied the inmates substantive medical care immediately afterward. Then, in the months following, it claims corrections officials sanctioned “systemic torture” of C Building inmates.
Inmates who were taken from Vaughn’s C Building when the uprising was quashed were cycled into the building’s yard where investigators photographed puddles of blood, which inmates said was the result of indiscriminate beatings by officers.
That alleged torture included physical violence, mental abuse and denial of basic rights.
The veracity of these allegations was not tested before the court dismissed the lawsuit last week. Attorneys also did not reach the stage where they could compel evidence from the Department of Correction about the claims. Instead, the litigation failed for a lack of specificity.
In dismissing it, Delaware District Court Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark referred to the complaint as a “shotgun pleading,” leaving the reader “unaware of who exactly is being accused of what conduct.”
Attorneys for the defendants said the complaint’s lack of specificity left them unable to prepare a defense. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that was difficult because of officers’ effort to conceal their identities.
Acknowledging that, the judge said the complaint didn’t meet the required standard of clearly setting out which plaintiffs suffered which specific act of misconduct. Having afforded the plaintiffs multiple chances to address these problems in recent years, Stark dismissed the complaint and shut the door for it to be amended.
DIGITAL WALKTHROUGH:See how the Vaughn riot unfolded
“Despite the preference of the courts to adjudicate claims on their merits – and, hopefully, reach the truth of what happened, redress proven wrongs, and do justice – the court cannot do so when plaintiffs fail to do what is required to give defendants notice and begin to press their case,” Stark wrote.
Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis, who took over the department in the summer of 2019, and other defendants denied the allegations in court. DeMatteis has said that no abuse occurred following the uprising.
“The Department of Correction has consistently argued that this frivolous litigation was without merit and must be dismissed,” wrote Jason Miller, a spokesman for DeMatteis. “We are pleased the court has done so.”
Stephen Hampton, the Dover attorney that filed the lawsuit, said he thinks the Department of Correction has sufficient information about the allegations to move forward and defend the case and feels that Stark is holding the plaintiffs to too high a standard in not allowing the lawsuit to continue. He said he will appeal the decision to federal appeals court.
While that lawsuit was the most sprawling, others tied to the takeover and alleged abuses afterward continue to churn through the courts.
Donald Parkell, an inmate who was in C Building that day, began litigating against the department two weeks after the riot. His initial handwritten complaint was an early account of what happened during the takeover and alleged abuses in the immediate aftermath.
It was also one of the first retellings of how a group of inmates, including Parkell and Terek Downing, banded together to protect prison counselor Patricia May, who was held hostage that day.
DOWNING: He protected a woman hostage on Delaware prison’s ‘darkest day’; now he seeks mercy. The complaint is now in its fifth iteration, and the court has appointed counsel to represent Parkell.
In addition to claims about a lack of medical care following the uprising, it claims the takeover was the foreseeable outcome to state and Department of Correction leaders that understaffed the building, knowingly mixed dangerous inmates and ignored glaring warning signs in the weeks and months preceding the riot.
Officials’ intent in creating such problems was to undermine a legal settlement that changed the way the Department of Correction operated, specifically as it related to how those with mental illness are confined, the lawsuit claims.
IN DEPTH: Never-released report shows prison officer’s death should not have happened
State officials have denied the claims in court, and the lawsuit has not yet reached the phase that would potentially allow Parkell’s attorneys to demand documents and depose current and former state leaders. There are also pending lawsuits still churning filed on behalf of the men accused by police of taking over the building.
Police originally indicted 16 on charges of murder in the death of correctional officer Steven Floyd, who was killed during the hostage standoff. Two others were indicted on lesser crimes.
Dwayne Staats, who admitted his role in the takeover, was convicted of murder. Another who admitted some hand in the plot was convicted of several charges, but not murder. One inmate charged with lesser crimes took a plea and cooperated with investigators.
The rest were either acquitted by juries or had their charges dropped before trial.
C tier of C Building
Most of them are now being held in Pennsylvania’s prisons, where some say they are being treated as if they had been found guilty.
Jonatan Rodriguez, a former C Building inmate whose murder charges were dropped, sued last year, claiming that after he was indicted in 2017, officers and officials at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown intentionally instituted a “regimen of intimidation, torture and abuse,” which included threats, slurs and denial of rights.
He also claims he was assaulted by officers who afterward carried out a coverup by falsifying reports. Officials have denied the allegations in court filings.
A separate complaint filed by Staats, the one inmate who admitted to orchestrating the takeover as a protest of prison conditions, sought to represent several others formerly charged with Floyd’s murder. It makes claims of abuse before and after the uprising.
SENTENCING: How do you punish someone already serving life?
A 2019 court order stated that the defendants had to file lawsuits individually. Since then, officials have moved to dismiss Staats’ lawsuit, which has largely been on hold due to the pandemic.
Underpinning these continued legal challenges is the fact the state has already paid $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by state employee victims of the takeover, who argued correction officials failed to act on warning signs ahead of the riot.