By Jon Hurdle
SMYRNA, Del. – As concern mounted about two workers held hostage inside a Delaware prison, law enforcement officers smashed a backhoe through the doors Thursday, retaking the building after an 18-hour standoff. Inside, they freed a prison counselor, but their fears were confirmed when they found a longtime corrections sergeant unresponsive.
Twenty-three minutes after officers breached the building, the sergeant, Steven R. Floyd, 47, was pronounced dead.
Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, said the takeover of Building C at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on Wednesday was no spontaneous outburst, but a planned act by inmates who had conducted “dry runs” of misbehavior to gauge how well officers could contain them.
Neither state officials nor Klopp would address how Floyd, a 16-year veteran of the department, had died, or why he might have been targeted.
“At this time, I’m not able to give you a motive for the attack,” Robert Coupe, secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said at a news conference.
He said he could not describe the weapons used against the officers, but some inmates had sharpened instruments. An autopsy was planned for Floyd.
To save money, the state has relied on officers working overtime, rather than filling 90 vacant positions – a point of contention with the officers’ union. “Sergeant Floyd’s death is due directly to staffing issues,” Klopp said.
Officials said that until they knew more about what happened, they were treating all 120 inmates as suspects.
On Wednesday, 46 inmates surrendered outside; by early Thursday, there were 74 inmates and two hostages left inside. The inmates who surrendered provided officials with information about the barricades and the locations of hostages, Coupe said.
Officials knew that the other hostage held overnight, a counselor, was alive, because the inmates had used her to communicate their demands.
Coupe said of the woman held at Vaughn: “We are happy to say that she was not injured in this ordeal, and I would go so far to say that there were actually inmates who shielded this victim and ensured her safety.”
“We have to investigate what happened here, determine the facts, to make sure that it never happens again,” Carney said. “The best way that we can honor Sgt. Steven Floyd is to do this work diligently, together and expeditiously.”