GEORGETOWN, DE—In December 2021, ACLU of Delaware (ACLU-DE) and Whiteford Taylor Preston (WTP), LLC filed a complaint in the federal District Court of Delaware on behalf of plaintiffs William Davis and Isaac Montague, two people who were incarcerated at the Delaware Department of Corrections’ (DOC) Sussex Correctional Facility, alleging violations of their constitutional rights. In February of this year, ACLU-DE and WTP filed an amended complaint, expanding the list of plaintiffs to 21. Today, July 21, 2022, ACLU-DE and WTP filed a second amended complaint in the litigation to include even more plaintiffs who are speaking out with the previous list of plaintiffs on allegations of abuse.
Davis et. al v. Neal et. al, which originally alleged just two attacks by SCI officers when it was filed in December, continues to grow and shed light on a horrific, ongoing pattern and practice of violent abuse against people housed at the facility.
“This lawsuit aims to accomplish two major goals: to prove that there is an ongoing, horrific pattern and practice of abuse at Sussex Correctional Institution – and to make sure that abuse ends,” said Dwayne J. Bensing, legal director at ACLU-DE. “The fact that we’re still receiving complaints, adding more plaintiffs, and naming more defendants, shows just how deep the roots of this issue run.”
With today’s filing, 39 plaintiffs have come forward to officially declare allegations of the abuse they’ve suffered at the hands of SCI officers. The list of defendants in the case has also grown, with 43 defendants, including 40 correctional officers, named in the second amended complaint.
Today’s amended complaint includes details from plaintiffs that allege even more violent and targeted attacks on people serving time at SCI – even those who haven’t yet been convicted of any crimes. New plaintiff allegations include:
- Plaintiff Bullock, who was at SCI on pretrial detention after protesting with the Black Lives Matter movement, who alleges that SCI officers interrogated him, pepper-sprayed him, and punched him in the head;
- Plaintiff Harding, who alleges that he was pepper sprayed, slammed on the floor, and placed in a suicide watch cell after being accused of talking during dinner;
- Plaintiff White, who alleges he was placed in SCI’s COVID-19 unit, despite not being COVID-19 positive, where officers used pepper spray loaded into spray paint guns as a compliance tactic;
- Plaintiff Smith, who alleges that Officers Bianca, Payton, Neal, and others strip-searched him unprovoked while he was in solitary confinement, violently attacked him, leaving permanent damage, and unloaded two full cans of pepper spray on his bare body, including in his eyes;
- Plaintiff Zahner, who alleges that Officers Roswell, Jones, and others pummeled him to the ground during breakfast, pepper sprayed him, split his head open, caused him to defecate himself, and then placed him in solitary confinement and denied him a shower for two days, despite the fact that he was covered in blood and feces; and
- Plaintiff Moore — who was never supposed to be placed at SCI because of a Court order in 2021 from when an SCI officer ran over him with a trailer — who alleges that Officers Jefferson and Spencer retaliated against him when he was brought back to SCI by cutting off his communication with his family, attacking him, pepper spraying his face, slamming him into a holding cell head-first, causing significant injury to his head and neck, and telling him “I hope you die in there.”
The second amended complaint also outlines serious concern about retaliation against the named plaintiffs in this litigation, citing health and safety concerns and free speech violations.
Daniel A. Griffth, partner at WTP and co-counsel on this case, said “Since we filed this lawsuit in December, our plaintiffs have been subject to retaliation tactics, including excessive force, physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and being deprived of basic amenities. We’re asking the Court to hold the defendants accountable for that retaliation in addition to their accountability for the ongoing abuse alleged in the complaint.”
This litigation is ongoing, and significant updates will continue to be released to media and the public as they happen.
People who have been victims of abuse at SCI, or their families, may reach out to the ACLU-DE legal team by filling out their online intake form at https://action.aclu.org/legal-intake/de-legal-claim.
More background, as well as the original and amended complaints, can be found online here: https://www.aclu-de.org/en/william-davis-and-isaac-montague-v-kirk-neal-et-al