The State of Delaware agreed to pay $7.5 million to the family of a prison guard killed during an inmate siege at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center earlier this year.
Six prison workers who were taken hostage by their wards participated as plaintiffs in the suit along with the remaining family of Lt. Steven Floyd, Sr.
Announced Friday afternoon by federal judge Joseph J. Farnan, Jr., the settlement is described by USA Today as possibly the largest settlement paid by Delaware following a civil suit.
The verdict comes five months after attorneys for the state unsuccessfully petitioned U.S. District Judge Richard G. Andrews to dismiss the suit. Writing to Andrews, the lawyers argued that workplace safety isn’t a constitutional right.
Moreover, they said, how public funds are allocated isn’t an issue which should be left open to the “interpretation” of juries.
While the State of Delaware refuses to admit wrongdoing, it claims to have reached a settlement to avoid the costs and burden of pursuing a lengthy process of litigation and appeals.
Comments issued by the defendants’ in court documents dismissed the claims of plaintiffs while still offering condolences to the victims of the prison riot.
“For the reasons stated in our court filings, the claims against all of the individual defendants lacked legal merit,” read the statement. “All of the defendants wish to express, however, their condolences and respect. It is their hope that this settlement with the Department of Corrections will provide a measure of comfort to the officers, employees and their families, whose services and sacrifice should be honored by all Delawareans.”
USA Today reports they were unable to connect with the offices of the Neuberger Firm and Jacobs & Crumpler, which provided counsel for the family of Lt. Steven Floyd and the six employees victimized by the riot.
“My hope is this settlement provides some measure of relief to the officers, employees and families involved,” said Delaware Governor John Carney in a statement. “As a state, we remain committed to taking all appropriate action to improve safety and security across Delaware’s correctional facilities. We owe that to the memory of Lieutenant Floyd.”
Throughout the course of litigation, the plaintiffs and their attorneys claimed the state and its Department of Corrections deliberate prioritized finances over the lives of officers. At Vaughn, they say, understaffing was a chronic and long-term issue which jeopardized the safety of facility employees.
Such claims were backed by an independent report released by former U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly III and retired Judge William Chapman.
The report mentioned the severity of understaffing, as well as other problems purportedly rampant at Vaughn – including overworked officers, inconsistent inmate populations, and the wanton mixing of prisoners with different gang affiliations.