Smyrna – Earlier this morning, Wednesday, February 1, 2017, an unknown number of prisoners inside the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center took four corrections personnel and other prisoners hostage, according to Delaware State Police Public Information Officer Sgt. Richard Bratz. The fifth officer that was reported as being taken hostage was later found to be safe in a different area of the prison.
Bratz said that at 10:32 a.m. a corrections officer radioed for “immediate assistance” within building “C”, a section of the prison that houses more than 100 inmates. All prisons in Delaware were quickly put on lockdown per Department of Correction policy.
Bratz and other authorities declined to provide many of the details about the incident as the situation is ongoing. Bratz did tell the assembled media that one of the hostages was released at 2:40 p.m. and was transported the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. He did not mention why the hostage was released.
Bratz continued saying “At this point, we do not know if there are any other injuries or persons injured” and followed up by saying “Working with the Department of Correction, the FBI, and the Delaware State Police, we continue negotiations to obtain a peaceful and safe resolution.”
At around 3:45 p.m. a heavy presence of well-armed corrections officers was observed guarding the entrances to the prison, while tactical teams moved around the complex. At the same time a group of cars, lining the road just a few hundred yards away, appeared to be those of family members awaiting news from the prison.
The News Journal reported reported that at around 2 p.m., thier tipline received a call from a woman who said her fiancé was an inmate at the Smyrna prison and was being held hostage.
They went on to say that a man’s voice was patched onto the line and that he said he was asked by hostage takers to relay demands to The News Journal.
The News Journal is reporting that the man said the following:
“I’m just doing what I’m being told to. I’m just trying to help, ma’am,” the man told a News Journal reporter. “They just need somebody to hear their demands.” The man would not give his name because he said he was instructed not to.
The demands came in the form of a manifesto or decree and mostly called for prison reforms.
Improper sentencing orders. Status sheets being wrong. Oppression towards the inmates,” the voice continued.
Prisoners funneled a second call to The News Journal through a woman who said her son was in Vaughn Correctional and was being held hostage.
“We’re trying to explain the reasons for doing what we’re doing,” one of the voices on the call said. “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. We know the institution is going to change for the worse. We got demands that you need to pay attention to, that you need to listen to and you need to let them know. Education, we want education first and foremost. We want a rehabilitation program that works for everybody. We want the money to be allocated so we can know exactly what is going on in the prison, the budget.
Governor John Carney, Commissioner Perry Phelps, and Secretary Rob Coupe addressed the media at 7:30 p.m. from the Central Violation Probation Center just outside the gates of the prison.
The Governor said the focus throughout the days was the safety of our correctional employees”. He went on to say that he had spoken to the families and that the incident was difficult for them.
Police and rescue crews from around the region have descended on the prison complex and are working to free the hostages.
Firefighters are staging at the Townsend Fire Company.