CRIME

Two staffers held hostage at Delaware maximum-security prison

Group of inmates took guards hostage at a maximum-security prison in Smyrna, Delaware

 

Two Delaware Department of Correction (DOC) employees were being held hostage at a maximum-security prison Wednesday night as inmates remained locked in an hours-long standoff with authorities.

DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps told reporters that four staff members at the the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna were taken hostage at around 10:30 a.m. ET after a correctional officer inside Building C, which houses over 100 inmates, radioed for immediate assistance.

One DOC employee was released approximately four hours later, while a second was released shortly before 8 p.m., Phelps said. The first hostage was taken to a local hospital with non life-threatening injuries and Delaware Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Rob Coupe said the second freed hostage was being examined by medical personnel. 

Earlier Wednesday, authorities said that five prison employees, not four, were being held by inmates. Officials did not specify whether any of the hostages were guards or prison counselors. 

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In addition to the staff members, 27 inmates had left Building C. Authorities said they didn't know whether the inmates had been held against their will. 

It was not immediately clear how many inmates were holding the hostages or whether they were armed. 

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 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.

Officials said they had no knowledge of the phone calls during a Wednesday evening news conference and did not discuss whether the inmates had made any demands. 

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Video from above the prison showed uniformed officers gathered in two groups along fences near an entrance to the prison. Later, video showed several people surrounding a stretcher and running as they pushed it across the compound. It wasn't clear if a person was on the stretcher. People could be seen standing near a set of doors with an empty stretcher and wheelchair.

Gravell said firefighters were called to the scene after reports of smoke and were being held on standby.

According to the department's website, the prison is Delaware's largest correctional facility for men, housing about 2,500 inmates. It houses minimum, medium, and maximum security inmates, and also houses Kent County detainees awaiting trial. It is also the site of the state's death row and where executions were carried out. The prison opened in 1971.

In 2004, an inmate raped a counselor and took her hostage for nearly seven hours at the Smyrna prison, 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.

Fox News' Tamara Gitt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.