More Delaware inmates released, 2 workers still held hostage

RANDALL CHASE, Associated Press

SMYRNA, Del. — Authorities say 14 more inmates have been released at a Delaware prison where inmates are still holding two staffers hostage.

A news release from the Delaware Department of Correction says the 14 were released about 12:30 a.m. Thursday and are being held elsewhere at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. More than two dozen inmates and two other workers were released Wednesday night.

Video footage taken by a WPVI-TV helicopter flying over the prison about 6:30 a.m. showed dozens of inmates being led out onto a paved recreation area and made to lie face down. The station said it was not immediately clear which building they were brought out of. It also was not clear if they were the recently released inmates or if they were among those released on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, authorities continued negotiations for the release of the last two of four corrections department workers taken hostage by inmates on Wednesday.

The inmates told a local newspaper that concerns about their treatment and the leadership of the United States had prompted their actions.

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.

The news release says 46 inmates have been released from the building since the hostage situation began, including the 14 released early Thursday.

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

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 authorities don’t know “the dynamics of the takeover” or whether inmates had been held against their will.

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 funneled the calls to the paper with the help of one inmate’s fiancee 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.

Coupe said authorities had been communicating with the hostage-takers via radio.

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 at the Smyrna prison raped a counselor 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 standoff.

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Associated Press writers Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, and David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Maryland, contributed to this report.