Prison beatings are too common in Sussex County says an attorney representing the family of a 48-year-old inmate whose February death has been ruled a homicide.
“It was my impression that they were going to kill someone someday, and they did,” said Stephen Hampton, a Dover attorney who tracks prison beatings and also represents the family of Ronald Shoup.
Shoup died Feb. 27 in custody at Sussex Correction Institution; the Medical Examiner has ruled his death a homicide caused by multiple blunt force injuries.
His certificate of death reads, “Sustained lethal trauma while being restrained multiple times by prison response team.”
Shoup was committed to SCI Feb. 20 following his fifth DUI arrest and other charges. Department of Corrections spokesman John Painter acknowledged an ongoing investigation by Delaware State Police but he declined to comment on the homicide ruling. He said no prison employees have been disciplined; they remain on full-duty status.
Hampton, who approached Shoup's family in Lewes upon hearing of his death, said Shoup's body was badly bruised.
“Officers subdued him at least twice; that was the source of the bruises,” he said.
Shoup was going through alcohol withdrawal symptons while in prison and was agitated and uncooperative; Shoup's father told Hampton that Shoup was paranoid and hallucinating when he spoke to Shoup over a prison phone, Hampton said.
Painter confirmed Shoup's medical issues in a timeline detailing Shoup's treatment during the seven days he was in prison custody.
“While in DOC custody it was determined that Mr. Shoup was suffering from symptoms consistent with substance withdrawal,” Painter said.
Shoup was moved to SCI's infirmary Feb. 25, and the next day, staff forcibly administered medication because Shoup was agitated and risked hurting himself or the medical staff, Painter said.
Hampton said he understands a doctor gave Shoup a shot of Ativan or thorazine – drugs used to subdue agitated patients. At 5 a.m. Feb. 27, a mental health observer checked on Shoup and saw him stop breathing. Medical staff administered CPR; Shoup was taken to Beebe Healthcare where he died at 9:25 a.m., Painter said.
An obituary that ran in the Cape Gazette March 7 noted Shoup was a grand master chef who had lived in Upper Darby, Pa. Hampton provided a restaurant review for La Forchette in Wayne, Pa., that noted new executive chef Shoup “has continued the classical French culinary tradition of his predecessors.”
His family said Shoup was a grand master chef by age 23, Hampton said.
While it is clear Shoup suffered from withdrawal symptons while incarcerated, Hampton said, Shoup's treatment while in custody was unjustified. Beatings within the prison system have become a pattern that needs to stop, he said.
Besides Shoup, a 26-year-old Dover man died at Kent General Hospital April 16, the same day he was committed to James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on menacing and theft charges. Delaware State Police and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are investigating the death of Jason N. Cunningham and surrounding circumstances, but no further details are available.
The investigation of Shoup's death is ongoing, said Sgt. Paul Shavack of the Delaware State Police.
“The Department of Corrections is fully cooperative in the investigation, and we continue to conduct numerous interviews, follow up interviews, and review any surveillance video,” he said. “When the investigation is complete, the findings will be turned over to the Delaware Attorney General's office to conduct a review of the facts and circumstances to determine if any actions constitute criminal charges.”
The Medical Examiner's Office issued a death certificate, it has not yet released an autopsy report. Hampton said he had no further information on when that would occur.
Hampton said Shoup should have been treated at a hospital for severe withdrawal.
“Hospitals manage to do that without hurting anyone or beating them up,” Hampton said.