US inmates take over prison

(iStock)
(iStock)

Smyrna - Police breached a building at Delaware's largest prison early on Thursday, ending a nearly 24-hour hostage stand-off that left one staff member dead.

Inmates assumed control of the building at the James T Vaughn Correction Center on Wednesday, taking four employees hostage. The inmates told a local newspaper that concerns about their treatment and the leadership of the United States had prompted their actions.

Authorities did not immediately explain how the employee died. They said Delaware State Police entered the building about 05:05. Thursday and found the man unresponsive. He was pronounced dead about 25 minutes later.

A second Department of Correction employee who had been held hostage was rescued. She is being examined at a hospital.

The prison is in Smyrna, about 20km north of the state capital of Dover.

Delaware Governor John Carney said the priority now is to determine what happened and why.

In a statement released Thursday, the new Democratic governor said officials will "hold accountable anyone who was responsible" for taking the hostages. He said officials will "make whatever changes are necessary to ensure nothing like it ever happens again."

Details of how the inmates managed to take over the building were not immediately clear. 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.

A preliminary investigation suggests the disturbance began about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday 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.

Statewide lockdown

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

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.

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 funnel the calls to the paper with the help of one inmate's fiancée 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.

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 counsellor 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 stand-off.


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