Two Department of Corrections employees who were taken hostage by inmates at a Delaware state prison remain held against their will overnight as negotiations continue.
The hostage situation at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC), a Level 5 maximum security prison in Smyrna, began shortly after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday when a corrections officer radioed for help from inside the center's Building C, which houses more than 100 inmates, Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said at a news conference.
Officers responded to help and the prison, which houses about 2,500 inmates in all, was placed on lockdown. Bratz initially said five employees were taken hostage, but authorities at a later news conference said the number had been revised to four after one person thought to be among the hostages was found in another part of the prison.
Emergency responders, including police from neighboring Pennsylvania and Delaware, converged on the prison Wednesday afternoon.
As NBC Philadelphia's SkyForce10 hovered near the correctional facility around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, dozens of law enforcement members could be seen staging near a gate. A short time later, a group of people were seen rushing someone on a stretcher to another building on the sprawling campus.
One hostage was released Wednesday around 2:25 p.m. and taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
At 5:20 p.m., eight inmates who were also inside Building C during the hostage situation were transferred to authorities. At 7:57 p.m. a second staff member was released and 19 more inmates were transferred to authorities.
Around 12:30 a.m. Thursday 14 more inmates were transferred from the building.
Officials say 82 inmates remain inside the building along with the two hostages. They're unsure at this time whether those 82 inmates or the inmates who were transfered from the building were involved in the hostage situation. They also say they don't know "the dynamics of the takeover."
Officials also say they don't know whether anyone other than the first released staff member was injured.
The FBI and Delaware State Police continue to negotiate.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Delaware Online received a call from a woman who claimed her fiancé is an inmate at the prison. The woman's fiancé then told the publication a "cop had been stabbed" and that he was asked to relay a list of demands from the inmates, which included better treatment.
Later, Delaware Online received a second phone call from a woman who claimed to be the mother of one of the hostages and two other men who claimed they were inmates at JTVCC. The first man said their reasons "for doing what we're doing" included "Donald Trump. Everything that he did. All the things that he's doing now. We know that the institution is going to change for the worse."
The second man said education for prisoners was the inmates' priority. They also said they want effective rehabilitation for all prisoners and information about how money is allocated to prisons.
During a press conference shortly after 8 p.m. officials said they were not aware of the two phone calls Delaware Online received. Officials also said that although negotiations are ongoing, they won't consider the inmates' demands until the hostages are released.
Richard Coupe, secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said authorities had been communicating with the hostage-takers via radio. He also noted that inmates in Building C have access to television and may have been watching the news conferences live.
"We'd like to tell them we want to resolve this peacefully," he said.
While Coupe declined to comment when asked about the phone calls to Delaware Online, he did say a dialogue about issues at the prison could happen later.
"Once this matter is resolved safely, then that will be the time to talk if the inmates want to talk about conditions, privileges, those types of things," he said.
Delaware Gov. John Carney spoke briefly, saying he had talked with the hostages' families.
"As you can imagine, it's been very difficult for them as well," the new Democratic governor said.
Family members of prison workers gathered outside the JTVCC Wednesday seeking updates on their loved ones. Staff members of the prison are not allowed to carry cellphones during a lockdown.
"I've lived around here my whole life," said Ethan Hunt, the son of a JTVCC worker. "I have friends who have family that works in here. I have other friends actually around my age who work in here. So it's just, it's kind of nerve-wracking."
The prison, which dates back to 1971, houses minimum, medium and maximum security prisoners as well as the state's death row inmates, according to the state Bureau of Prisons.
The prison employs 1,500 corrections officers, according to Bruce Rogers, counsel for the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware.
In 2004, an inmate there raped a counselor and took her hostage for nearly seven hours at the Smyrna prison, according to an Associated Press report at the time. A department sharpshooter later shot and killed 45-year-old Scott Miller, according to the report, ending the standoff.
Dover attorney Stephen Hampton, who has represented state inmates in civil rights cases, said complaints have increased in the past year from inmates systemwide about substandard medical care and poor record-keeping.
Hampton also said that pretrial inmates at Vaughn and other facilities are locked up for much of the day, without access to gyms or libraries, because rules prohibit mixing pretrial and sentenced inmates.
"There gets to be a tremendous pressure on these inmates who sometimes make deals just to get out," Hampton said.
Inmates Take Employees Hostage at a Delaware State Prison
Inmates were holding two people hostage at a Delaware prison on Wednesday night in a standoff that began in the morning and left at least one prison employee injured, officials said.
The hostages were taken at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, near the town of Smyrna, between Wilmington and Dover. It is the state’s largest prison, with 2,500 inmates in minimum-, medium- and maximum-security units.
At a news conference on Wednesday night, officials revealed that a total of 27 inmates had been released by the hostage-takers, but it was unclear whether they had been held against their will and how many inmates remained.
Officials said four staff members had initially been taken hostage. Early accounts put that number at five, though officials said one person had not been accounted for at first but was later found to be safe.
Robert Coupe, the secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said at the news conference at about 8:15 p.m. that the authorities were communicating with the inmates via a two-way radio belonging to a correctional officer. Inmates also have access to television and may have been watching a live broadcast of the news conference, he added.
At 10:32 a.m., “a correctional officer made a radio call for immediate assistance from within C Building, which houses over 100 inmates,” Sgt. Richard Bratz of the Delaware State Police said at a news conference earlier on Wednesday. The building houses maximum-security inmates who are making the transition to medium security.
Other correction officers responded to the distress call, and the prison was placed on lockdown, but inmates took four employees hostage. At about 2:40 p.m., one hostage was set free and taken by ambulance to a hospital, Sergeant Bratz said, “with nonlife-threatening injuries.”
Eight inmates were released at 5:20 p.m. Shortly before 8 p.m., another staff member and 19 inmates were released. Their conditions were not immediately known.
The News Journal newspaper reported that a woman had called its newsroom, stated that she was a hostage and haltingly read a statement that she said had been given to her by the inmates, complaining of mistreatment. She said the prisoners had forbidden her to give her name, and when asked how many inmates were holding her, she said she did not know because “they’ve got my face covered.”
Officials declined to discuss specifics of the inmates’ demands. Mr. Coupe said that once the takeover was resolved peacefully, “a dialogue can start then.”
Scores of law enforcement officers in riot gear, with armored vehicles, gathered around the prison’s buildings.
Sergeant Bratz said officials were in contact with the hostage-takers, but he gave no details about their demands or the progress of negotiations. “We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of everyone involved,” he said.
As a precaution, the Department of Correction placed all of the state’s prisons on lockdown.
On a rural road along the prison perimeter, Carla Vereen was waiting in her car for news of her husband, who has worked in the prison as a corrections officer for 16 years. Ms. Vereen said she had not heard directly from her husband or from the prison authorities since the hostage crisis began.
Also waiting was a former inmate, Rollin Lee Laub, who said he was not surprised to hear the reports that some inmates had taken hostages.
“They took everything from these guys so they had nothing but idle time, which is the devil’s workshop,” said Mr. Laub, who was released from the prison in 2014 after serving almost 40 years.
Two Held Hostage at Delaware Prison
Two correctional employees were being held hostage at a maximum-security prison in Delaware on Wednesday evening after inmates released two other prison workers, state officials said.
The incident began just after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday when a correctional officer radioed for immediate assistance in a building housing more than 100 inmates at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Del., officials said.
Inmates released one employee in the afternoon and another in the evening, said Perry Phelps, state corrections commissioner. Officials initially said five employees had been taken hostage but said one of those individuals was actually in another part of the prison at the time of the incident.
The first employee to be released was treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, officials said; they didn’t have information on the other employee’s condition.
“We have put all the resources that we have to bear to get our employees out,” Delaware Gov. John Carney Jr. told reporters Wednesday evening.
Officials wouldn’t discuss a possible motive of the inmates who are holding the employees, or detail demands inmates are communicating to negotiators over a prison radio.
“Once this matter is resolved safely, then that will be the time to talk,” said Rob Coupe, secretary of the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. “If the inmates want to talk about conditions, privileges, those type of things, yes, that dialogue can take place. But none of that starts until we have the safe return of our staff.”
Mr. Coupe said he couldn’t comment when asked how many inmates are holding the staff members.
Officials said 27 inmates also were released from the housing unit in two groups but said they weren’t sure of the circumstances.
“We don’t know the dynamics of the takeover and we don’t know…if any inmates were held against their will, or if these inmates simply requested to be released and were released by whoever is in charge for the inmates,” Mr. Coupe said.
How the inmates were able to gain control of prison staff will be the focus of an investigation, he said.
The prison houses about 2,500 male inmates, including maximum-security prisoners. The state’s four other prisons were also placed on lockdown, as is standard protocol in such cases.
Last month in Massachusetts, prisoners took control of a maximum-security prison for several hours, laying waste to the housing unit before guards subdued them with pepper spray. There were no serious injuries due to the incident, which started with a fight between inmates.