Inmates at a Delaware prison took four corrections department workers hostage Wednesday, a move the inmates told a local newspaper was due to concerns about their treatment and the leadership of the United States.
The hostage situation drew dozens of officers and law enforcement vehicles to the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna and prompted a statewide lockdown of all prisons. One hostage was released Wednesday afternoon and another was released hours later, leaving authorities negotiating into the evening for the last two being held.
A preliminary investigation suggests the disturbance began about 10:30 a.m. when a correctional officer inside Building C, which houses over 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 27 inmates also had left the building over the course of the evening.
Authorities don't know "the dynamics of the takeover" or whether those inmates had been held against their will, Coupe said.
One of the freed employees was taken to a hospital for 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 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.
Coupe said authorities had been communicating with the hostage-takers via radio. He also noted that inmates in Building C have access to television and could be watching the news conference live.
"We'd like to tell them we want to resolve this peacefully," he said.
Coupe declined to comment when asked about the phone calls to the News Journal. but said 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.
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 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.