Delaware Prisoners Take Hostages Overnight | NBC Southern California
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Delaware Prisoners Take Hostages Overnight

The hostage situation at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC), a Level 5 maximum security prison in Smyrna, began shortly after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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    (Published Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017)

    UPDATE: The hostage standoff ended Thursday morning with a correction officer dead and another correction worker rescued as crews secured the prison building.


    A tense hostage situation at a Delaware state prison developed Thursday morning as dozens of inmates appeared to be laying on the ground outside a building as two prison workers remained held against their will overnight as negotiations continued.

    The hostage situation at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC), a Level 5 maximum security prison in Smyrna, began with four hostages Wednesday morning. In calls to a local newspaper, the hostage takers said they sought better education, effective rehabilitation and more transparency on prison funding. One also linked the action to President Donald Trump "everything that he did."

    It wasn't clear if the latest flurry of activity indicated a resolution to the standoff.

    The crisis began just after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, when a corrections officer radioed for help from inside the center's Building C, which houses more than 100 inmates, Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said at a news conference.

    Officers responded to help and the prison, which houses about 2,500 inmates in all, was placed on lockdown. 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.

    Emergency responders, including police from neighboring Pennsylvania and Delaware, converged on the prison Wednesday afternoon. 

    As NBC Philadelphia's SkyForce10 hovered near the correctional facility around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, dozens of law enforcement members could be seen staging near a gate. A short time later, a group of people were seen rushing someone on a stretcher to another building on the sprawling campus.

    Blood Bank Delmarva appealed to the public for O blood type and platelet donations to be taken to the prison though they did not reveal why.

    One hostage was released Wednesday around 2:25 p.m. and taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

    At 5:20 p.m., eight inmates who were also inside Building C during the hostage situation were transferred to authorities. At 7:57 p.m. a second staff member was released and 19 more inmates were transferred to authorities.

    Around 12:30 a.m. Thursday, 14 more inmates were transferred from the building.

    Around 6:30 a.m. Thursday, SkyForce10 captured officers appearing to lead someone out of the building and about four dozen people dressed in yellow and white inmate clothing laying on the ground outside -- they appeared to be handcuffed. The prisoners were helped up and then led inside a nearby building one at a time, and by 7:15 almost everyone of them was ushered inside.

    No official word yet on if any more hostages were released.

    Earlier, officials had said 82 inmates remained inside the building along with the two hostages. They were unsure whether those 82 inmates or the inmates who were transferred from the building were involved in the hostage situation. They also said they don't know "the dynamics of the takeover."

    Officials also said they don't know whether anyone other than the first released staff member was injured.

    The FBI and Delaware State Police continued to negotiate into Thursday morning.

    Late Wednesday afternoon, Delaware Online received a call from a woman who claimed her fiancé is an inmate at the prison. The man on the phone then told the publication a "cop had been stabbed" and that he was asked to relay a list of demands from the inmates, which included better treatment.

    Later, Delaware Online received a second phone call from a woman who claimed to be the mother of one of the hostages and two other men who claimed they were inmates at JTVCC. The first man 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."

    The second man 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.

    During a news conference shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday officials said they were not aware of the two phone calls Delaware Online received. Officials also said that although negotiations were ongoing, they wouldn't consider the inmates' demands until the hostages are released.

    Richard Coupe, secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said authorities had been communicating with the hostage-takers via radio. He also noted that inmates in Building C have access to television and may have been watching the news conferences live.

    "We'd like to tell them we want to resolve this peacefully," he said.

    While Coupe declined to comment when asked about the phone calls to Delaware Online, he did say 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.

    Family members of prison workers gathered outside the JTVCC Wednesday seeking updates on their loved ones. Staff members of the prison are not allowed to carry cellphones during a lockdown.

    "I've lived around here my whole life," said Ethan Hunt, the son of a JTVCC worker. "I have friends who have family that works in here. I have other friends actually around my age who work in here. So it's just, it's kind of nerve-wracking."

    The prison, which dates back to 1971, houses minimum, medium and maximum security prisoners as well as the state's death row inmates, according to the state Bureau of Prisons.

    The prison 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 system wide 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.

    The department of corrections wouldn't say if the prison is understaffed but did say they are filling vacancies.