Content warning:

This page includes information about a case that involves physical and psychological violence inflicted on incarcerated people by correctional officers. The details of this case may be disturbing or distressing to the reader.


On Friday, December 17, 2021, Isaac Montague and William Davis filed a complaint in the federal District Court of Delaware against officers at the Delaware Department of Correction’s (DOC) Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) facility.

Read the first complaint

The lawsuit outlines two separate — but equally egregious — attacks on people living at SCI by DOC employees, as well as the lack of action taken by leadership at SCI. It states that the attacks are violations of the plaintiffs’ right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, a protection that is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

According to the lawsuit, in September 2021, several SCI officers brutally attacked Isaac Montague, the first plaintiff in the complaint, completely unprovoked. Three officers led the attack, while other officers watched — and even videotaped — the attack. The victim was placed in solitary confinement without adequate medical care for three weeks after the incident.

A separate attack occurred the following month, according to William Davis, the second plaintiff in the complaint. Davis was held at SCI despite the fact that his release from the facility had been Court-ordered. He states that an SCI officer, the same one who initiated the attack a month prior, began beating him after Davis unknowingly answered a question incorrectly.

Since December 2021, the ACLU of Delaware and Whiteford Taylor Preston, LLC (WTP) have filed two amended complaints, and the list of plaintiffs who have come forward to officially declare allegations of abuse at SCI has grown from 2 to 29. The list of plaintiffs has grown from 7 to 43, including 40 correctional officers.

The tens of allegations of physical and psychological violence illustrate that abuse at SCI is not an isolated incident contained to one "bad apple," but a pattern and practice of abuse and human rights violations. Abuse at SCI is a systemic problem.


If you have experienced abuse at Sussex Correctional Institution and would like to speak with ACLU-DE's legal team, please submit your information through our legal intake form.

Legal intake form


This litigation is ongoing, and significant updates will continue to be released to the media and the public as they happen. To read the latest updates and amended filings for this case, scroll down to our "Case Updates" section.

Attorney(s)

Daniel A. Griffith, Esq.; Dwayne J. Bensing, Esq.

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Whiteford, Taylor, and Preston, LLC

Date filed

December 17, 2021

Court

Federal District Court of Delaware

Status

Filed

Case Updates

July 21, 2022

Second amended complaint filing

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 in scale 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 the second amended 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 plaintiffs, including 40 correctional officers, named in the second amended complaint.

This 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.”

February 16, 2022

First amended complaint filing

On Wednesday, February 16, 2022, we filed an amended complaint to include a growing list of plaintiffs who are speaking out with William Davis and Isaac Montague on the allegations of abuse at Sussex Correctional Institution.

Davis et. al v. Neal et. al, which originally alleged two egregious attacks by SCI officers when it was filed in December, now alleges a significant increase in the number of attacks — shedding light on a horrific, ongoing pattern and practice of violent abuse against people housed at the facility.

A recent article by Xerxes Wilson of Delaware Online spotlights some of the plaintiffs who are part of the litigation. In the article, Keith Campbell, one of the new plaintiffs named, shared that officer Kirk Neal, one of the named defendants, “maintains a ‘severe reputation for beating up people badly’ and has been allowed to get away with it.”

Stories of abuse continue to come to light on this situation at SCI, and there may be an additional amended complaint in the coming months.

Read the amended complaint press release