Family of slain officer, prison employees accept $7.55 million settlement

No details of February prison siege released
December 27, 2017

The family of the correctional officer killed during a 2017 prison uprising and five correctional officers injured during the 20-hour siege that followed have been awarded more than $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit against the state and several state officials.

Retired federal judge Joseph J. Farnan Jr. announced the settlement Dec. 15 after presiding over mediation between the state and the family of Lt. Steven R. Floyd and five correctional officers.

The claims were dismissed and plaintiffs agreed to end litigation.

Floyd was killed after inmates took over a building at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna Feb. 1. Two correctional officers and a counselor were taken hostage during the siege, which ended the morning of Feb. 2 after law enforcement entered the facility by force. An autopsy determined Floyd's death was homicide caused by trauma. Floyd's widow had asked for her husband's autopsy report, but it is unclear whether she ever obtained a copy.

On Oct. 16, 16 inmates were indicted on first-degree murder, felony riot and other charges. Two more inmates face kidnapping, felony riot and conspiracy, for a total of 18 men indicted.

“The parties have agreed that the claims remain disputed and that the settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing by the Department of Correction, the State of Delaware, or any present or former Delaware employee or official, nor a concession by the plaintiffs that their claims were unfounded,” wrote Farnan in a press release. “The parties are settling to avoid the burden and expense that comes with protracted litigation and to bring closure to the matter.”

Sharing the $7.55 million award are Floyd's widow Saundra M. Floyd, Candyss C. White, Steven R. Floyd Jr., Chyvante E. Floyd and Rachel Ann Powell, representing the estate of Steven R. Floyd Sr. Correctional officers Winslow H. Smith and Joshua Wilkinson – both taken hostage during the siege – and Officers Justin Tuxard, Matthew McCall and Owen Hammond were also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs had sued former governors Jack Markell and Ruth Ann Minner along with two former prison commissioners, the Department of Correction, the State of Delaware and other government officials in the civil suit filed in U.S. District Court. All parties agreed to pay their own attorney's fees and costs in an order signed by the Honorable Richard G. Andrews Dec. 18.

Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, said he hopes the settlement brings the Floyd family some closure. Staffing levels at the prisons remain an issue, with about a dozen officers leaving positions every month across the state. Klopp said he plans to work for better working conditions when state legislators return to business in January. “We're going to keep pushing,” he said.

Bids are expected to open in January for a 9,000-square-foot addition to a building at Vaughn correctional to provide mental health, substance abuse and educational training.