Prison officials: 1 hostage dead, another aleart and talking

RANDALL CHASE
Associated Press

SMYRNA, Del. (AP) — Delaware prison officials say one hostage is dead and a second is alert and talking after authorities entered a building at the state’s largest prison where inmates had taken staff members hostage.

Officials announced in a statement Thursday morning that the building where the disturbance occurred at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center is now secure. The prison is in Smyrna, about 15 miles north of the state capital of Dover. Officials say after authorities breached the building, one Department of Correction worker was found unresponsive and later pronounced dead.

The inmates took four corrections department workers hostage Wednesday morning, prompting a lockdown of all Delaware prisons. The inmates released one staffer in the afternoon and another Wednesday night. At least one of those staffers had injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

A news release from the Delaware Department of Correction says 14 more inmates were released about 12:30 a.m. Thursday from the building where the hostages had been held and were being held elsewhere at the prison. The news release said 46 inmates have been released from the building since the hostage situation began, including the 14 released early Thursday.

Video footage taken by a WPVI-TV helicopter flying over the prison about 6:30 a.m. Thursday showed dozens of inmates being led out onto a paved recreation area and made to lie face down. The station said it was not immediately clear which building they were brought out of. It also was not clear if they were the recently released inmates or if they were among those released on Wednesday.

The inmates told a local newspaper that concerns about their treatment and the leadership of the United States had prompted their actions.

The hostage situation drew dozens of officers and law enforcement vehicles and prompted a statewide lockdown of all prisons. One hostage was released Wednesday afternoon and another was released hours later.

A preliminary investigation suggests the disturbance began about 10:30 a.m. when a correctional officer inside Building C, which houses more than 100 inmates, radioed for immediate assistance, Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said. Other officers responded to help, and the employees were taken hostage, he said.

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.

Robert Coupe, secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said authorities don’t know “the dynamics of the takeover” or whether inmates had been held against their will.

One of the freed employees was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, authorities said. The condition of the second wasn’t immediately available.

Earlier in the day, inmates reached out to The News Journal in Wilmington in two phone calls to explain their actions and make demands. Prisoners funneled the calls to the paper with the help of one inmate’s fiancee and another person’s mother. The mother told the paper that her son was among the hostages.

In that call, an inmate 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.”

That caller 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.

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.

According to the department’s website, the prison is Delaware’s largest correctional facility for men, with about 2,500 inmates. It houses minimum, medium and maximum security inmates, and also houses Kent County detainees awaiting trial.

It employs 1,500 corrections officers, according to Bruce Rogers, counsel for the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware.

In 2004, an inmate at the Smyrna prison raped a counselor and took her hostage for nearly seven hours, 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.

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Associated Press writers Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, and David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Maryland, contributed to this report.