Families fear mistreatment of inmates after prison uprising

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Families of inmates at a Delaware prison where one staffer was killed during a hostage situation are expressing concerns about their safety as phone calls and visits remain restricted, but Department of Correction officials are denying allegations that prisoners have been beaten.

A lockdown remained in place Monday at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, DOC spokeswoman Chelsea Hicks said.

And late Monday, correction officials said 16 correctional officers have either resigned, given notice, retired or submitted retirement papers since Feb. 1, when the hostage incident began.

Spokeswoman Jayme Gravell said in an email that three correctional officers resigned immediately; five gave notice that they were going to quit.

Eight officers also submitted retirement paperwork. One retired immediately; the others plan to retire in the upcoming months, some as late as August, Gravell said. One teacher also chose to retire, she said.

Hicks said last week that the lockdown conditions included a ban on visits from family members and prisoners receiving meals in their cells rather than in communal chow halls. Restrictions also have been placed on recreational time and law library visits, and work privileges have been suspended for most inmates, although some are allowed to work in the main kitchen.

Phone privileges have been restored to some inmates, but those being held in maximum security are still not allowed phone calls, Hicks said.

That has left some families concerned about the safety of their loved ones. Their worries have grown after they say an inmate sent a letter to the mother of another prisoner asking that she notify families that their loved ones are being beaten, denied medical care and otherwise mistreated.

Hicks denied that inmates are being assaulted by correctional officers.

Connie Runyon says her son Michael was among a handful of prisoners who banded together to protect a female counselor from other inmates during the prison uprising earlier this month.

"I want to talk to my son," Runyon said.

She said she believes DOC officials are restricting inmate communications to keep a lid on details about the uprising, in which four DOC staffers were held hostage and one of them, correctional officer Steven Floyd, was killed.

"They don't want the public to know or the news media to know what exactly happened in there that night, and they're not letting them talk until the investigation is over," Runyon said.

Joyce Starling said she's been unable to talk to her son, Shamus Rowley, but fears that he was beaten by guards. Rowley, known as "Fat Cat," is one of several inmates mentioned in the other prisoner's letter.

Starling said her son weighs more than 400 pounds and has a breathing condition.

"I'm just concerned that if he's in bad shape, how is he going to continue to breathe?" she said.

The woman who received the letter turned it over Sunday to the Rev. Christopher Bullock, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle. Bullock is a member of the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice, which has called for a federal investigation into the uprising. The woman who received the letter did not want to speak publicly, but Runyon posted it online.

"It's certainly worth looking into," Bullock said of the letter, which was mailed late last week in an envelope fashioned from a sick call form. "I hear a lot of desperation and cries for help."

Hicks, the DOC spokeswoman, said the allegation that inmates are being physically abused is "a fallacy."

"Medical treatment is being rendered as per the individual needs of the offender," she added in an email.

Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, also denied that inmates are being assaulted.

"Nobody is using excessive force," said Klopp, adding that he has "tremendous concerns" about the safety of prison staff.

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