DOVER, Del. – State officials have agreed to pay more than $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from an inmate riot at Delaware’s maximum-security prison that left a correctional officer dead.
Under the settlement announced Friday, 11 plaintiffs, including six Department of Correction employees and relatives of slain officer Steven Floyd, will share $7.55 million.
In settling the lawsuit, state officials did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, and claims against individual current and former state officials were dismissed.
“For the reasons stated in our court filings, the claims against all of the individual defendants lacked legal merit,” attorneys for the state said in a joint statement announcing the agreement. “All of the defendants wish to express, however, their condolences and respect.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs thanked law enforcement officials who responded to the Feb. 1 riot as well as members of the state correctional officers union for their support.
“The officers, employees and their families now hope to concentrate on emotional and physical healing,” the joint statement read, adding that the parties and lawyers involved would have no further comment.
Floyd’s widow, Saundra Floyd, declined to comment when reached by telephone Friday evening.
The settlement comes a day after an amended complaint was filed to add a wrongful death claim against the Department of Correction and a month after attorneys asked the judge to postpone a hearing on the state’s motions to dismiss the lawsuit.
“My hope is this settlement provides some measure of relief to the officers, employees and families involved,” Democratic Gov. John Carney said in a prepared statement. “As a state, we remain committed to taking all appropriate action to improve safety and security across Delaware’s correctional facilities. We owe that to the memory of Lieutenant Floyd.”
Defendants in the suit included former Democratic Govs. Ruth Ann Minner and Jack Markell, Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps and three of his predecessors, and current and former state budget directors. The plaintiffs alleged that state officials deliberately ignored security and staffing problems at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna for years, leaving poorly trained and overworked correctional officers at risk.
An independent review ordered by Carney, who took office two weeks before the uprising and was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, also found that prison administrators dismissed warnings of trouble brewing at the prison in the days leading up to the riot. Those warnings included recommendations from Floyd that certain inmates be removed from the housing unit where the riot later occurred.
Just days after Floyd made his recommendations, inmates took him and three other correctional workers hostage, setting off a nearly 20-hour standoff during which Floyd was killed and two other guards tormented and beaten by inmates before being released. Three other correctional workers locked themselves in a basement for hours before climbing to an attic and onto a roof, where they were rescued.
The siege ended when tactical teams used a backhoe to breach the building and rescue Patricia May, a female counsellor who had been protected by some inmates during the siege. According to the settlement agreement, May, 68, will be retiring from her state job in the coming weeks.
“I don’t want the men that may have jeopardized their own lives to be forgotten,” May said Friday of her inmate protectors. “There were men who stuck their own necks out to protect me.”
“I want the inmates to know that I will continue to fight for prison reform,” added May, who said Delaware’s recidivism rate needs to be drastically reduced.
Carl Kanefsky, a spokesman for Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, said the Department of Justice would not be commenting on the settlement.
Robert Scoglietti, a spokesman for the state budget office, said the bulk of the settlement, $5.1 million, is coming from the state employee workers compensation account, a government fund that covers workplace injuries for state employees. The remaining $2.45 million will come from the state’s legal contingency account, which Scoglietti said has sufficient funds to cover the settlement.
Although the civil suit is settled, 18 inmates are facing criminal charges for their alleged roles in the riot. Sixteen of them, including some already serving time for murder, are charged with first-degree murder in Floyd’s death.