Using a backhoe to smash through a barricade of footlockers, authorities stormed Delaware's largest prison early Thursday and ended a nearly day-long hostage standoff involving inmates armed with sharpened objects. One hostage — a guard — was found dead.
A second hostage, a female counselor, was safely rescued. Some inmates had shielded her from harm, officials said.
Sgt. Steven Floyd was found unresponsive as Delaware and Maryland state police, along with DOC officers, raided "C" building at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC) just after 5 a.m., officials said. Floyd was pronounced dead minutes later, as police secured the building.
"This is a very sad day across the state of Delaware, with the loss of one of our brave correctional officers," Delaware Gov. John Carney said.
Floyd was a 16-year veteran of the Department of Correction. A vigil was planned for Friday at Smyrna Memorial Park at 6 p.m.
Inmates, some with homemade sharp weapons, took three guards and a counselor hostage at the JTVCC, a Level 5 maximum security prison in Smyrna, shortly after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. A corrections officer radioed for help from inside the C building, which houses more than 100 inmates, Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said.
Authorities did not immediately explain how 47-year-old Sgt. Steven Floyd died, but the head of the guards union said the 16-year veteran of the prison was forced into a closet and killed by his captors at some point.
During the takeover, Floyd yelled to other guards who were coming to help him that the inmates had set a trap, saving some of his fellow officers' lives, said Geoffrey Klopp, union president.
All 120 inmates taken from the facility are being considered suspects, investigators said. The building houses inmates moving up from minimum security or down from maximum security. Officials said that the prison was operating at minimum staffing levels.
Officials didn't say what prompted the uprising, but in calls to a local news outlet, the hostage takers said they sought better education, effective rehabilitation and more transparency on prison funding. One also linked the action to President Donald Trump and "everything that he did."
Gov. Carney said in a statement he was "praying hard" for Floyd's family and he ordered flags across Delaware to be flown at half staff.
"This serves as a tragic reminder that members of law enforcement risk their lives every day on behalf of the people of Delaware. We will stand by the fallen officer's family and fellow law enforcement officers during what is an extremely difficult time," Carney said.
The guards who were taken hostage were beaten severely by their captors and suffered broken bones, cuts and eye injuries, Klopp said. Authorities said their injuries were not life-threatening.
The inmates released one staffer they'd taken hostage in the afternoon and another Wednesday night. Three maintenance workers who hid out in the basement during the siege made it onto the building's roof later Wednesday night and were rescued.
Before sunrise Thursday, SkyForce10 captured video of dozens of inmates lying on the ground outside the C building, then being ushered into another building one at a time.
The building being secured brought an end to 18 tense hours at the rural prison between Wilmington and Dover.
"This was a long and agonizing situation," Carney said. "I want to thank all those involved in responding, including officers at the Department of Correction and the Delaware State Police, as well as our federal partners. Our priority now will be to determine what happened and how this happened. We will hold accountable anyone who was responsible. And we will make whatever changes are necessary to ensure nothing like it ever happens again."
The negotiations via walkie-talkie were broadcast online for more than an hour before officials blocked the transmission. The conversations were mostly calm, with moments of tension. At one point, an unidentified inmate told a negotiator that the prisoners wanted a "formal apology" from the governor for "decades of oppression."
The prison, about 15 miles outside the state capital of Dover, dates back to 1971 and houses minimum, medium and maximum security prisoners serving sentences, along with defendants awaiting trial, and the state's death row inmates, according to the state Bureau of Prisons. Building C includes inmates being disciplined for infractions.
While authorities investigate what went wrong, Delaware Homeland Security Secretary Robert Coupe noted that the prison system faces staffing shortages every day.
"Statewide, we are down on any given day about 90 positions," said Coupe, who added that the agency uses overtime to meet minimum staffing levels.
Klopp said Floyd's death was preventable and slammed the state for understaffing and low pay.
In 2004, an inmate at the prison raped a counselor and held her hostage for nearly seven hours before he was killed by a department sharpshooter. Klopp said none of the resulting recommendations for improving staffing were put into effect after the incident.