[Pnews] Prisoners defend themselves in trial after Delaware Rebellion

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 14 18:23:12 EST 2018

/*Two articles follow*/


  Vaughn inmate-defendant takes stand, says riot was born of 'good

Xerxes Wilson, November 13, 2018

A man charged with the murder of a correctional officer during the 
uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center last year took the 
witness stand Tuesday, telling the jury the uprising started with "good 

"I didn’t kill nobody. I didn’t assault nobody. I didn't kidnap nobody," 
said Jarreau Ayers, 36, who is charged with murder, kidnapping, assault 
and other charges. "Anything other than that, I am not ducking."

Ayers is one of three men on trial for the past three weeks 
charges tied to the uprising. Prosecutors have said he was part of the 
planning and commission of the uprising that ended with Correctional 
Officer Lt. Steven Floyd dead.

He said reality is more complicated.

"Sgt. Floyd should not have died. I agree with that. It was not right," 
Ayers said. "Sgt. Floyd should not have died. Bad things happen when you 
have good intentions."

He had been in C building, where the uprising occurred, for about two 
months and described three "peaceful protests" inmates initiated over 
things like access to showers and telephones.

Small remedies would lead to a cool down but other issues presented 

"It continued to build up, build up, build up," Ayers said.

He said inmates were getting into confrontations with each other and 
guards were "shaking down" cells regularly.

"If you live there, you are together everyday. You can't come to an 
agreement on phone, can’t come to agreement on showers, can't come to 
agreement on all these things, the first confrontation you have is with 
inmates," he said. "To avoid that, we said we have to talk to someone 
who can change it."

Vaughn uprising trial: What to know as trial enters fourth week 

The stories behind the 3 men on trial for Delaware prison riot 

Vaughn prison counselor held hostage describes 'beautiful moments' 

He said there was discussion about a nonviolent protest. He said he 
learned about it the night before. He said he didn't know details when 
he went out to the prison yard that day, but he was for the cause.

"If we end up having to spend some time in the SHU (isolation) at least 
the administration is going to look into the officers, look into what is 
going on and the people that come behind us are going to have better 
living conditions," Ayers said.

Prosecutors said the uprising began when Floyd called the first wave of 
inmates in from the yard. Ayers said he stayed outside and heard the 
"commotion." He said he was worried about the people "he has love for" 
and was unsettled that he wasn't in on whatever was happening.

"They chose for me not to be part of that situation. That was a decision 
they made that I still take issue with at times," Ayers said. "But it 
was what it was."

He said a masked man came to the door and commanded the rest of the 
inmates in.

Some witnesses called by prosecutors over the past three weeks said that 
Ayers came from inside and called in the group while wearing a mask. 
Others said a masked man they didn't know did it.

Ayers called three witnesses to the stand before his testimony who all 
said a masked man whose identity they didn't know called them in.

Ayers told the jury he knows who it was. Later, he was asked to identify 
the man on cross-examination by prosecutors, was reminded he is under 
oath by the judge and said he didn't recall the identity.

 From there he went back inside and said he began checking on people he 
was friends with. He said he was unconcerned about being implicated for 
walking around because he is already serving a life sentence.

As he is moving around he sees his co-defendant and "comrade" Dwayne 
Staats as well as Royal Downs 
the state's star witness who took a plea in return for testifying, in 
the building's classroom. They had a radio and told him they are trying 
to get Gov. John Carney on the line.

"I ain't going to lie to you, I was like 'who the hell is Carney?" he said.

He told the jury he guessed it should have been "more dramatic," but 
once the prisoners realized nobody was rushing in to retake the 
building, "everybody did what they wanted to do."

"You got the microwave down on the tier. You got weed being rolled up," 
Ayers said. "You got the 'what we gonna cook, what are we going to do?'"

Inmates testifying for the prosecution have portrayed themselves as 
victims when asked about their motivation and potential benefit for 
cooperating with the state.

Ayers said it was hard for him to watch witnesses "act as if somehow 
they were scared to move around as if in that moment they did not feel 
some type of freedom or liberation."

He said he had no part in the takeover until Staats asked him to go 
around and ask which inmates had medical problems and needed to leave 
promptly. A previous witness testified that Ayers got water for him and 
secured his exit because of his heart condition.

When the time came to open the door and let that group out, he said 
nobody wanted to leave, fearing the police would begin shooting. Ayers 
said he opened it and slammed it when black-suited cops with guns 
started to rush toward them.

Ayers voice can be heard on radio transmissions with hostage negotiators 
soon after.

"You rush that (expletive) door like that again it is going to be an 
issue. We are trying to do exactly what protocol is," Ayers can be heard 
saying. "You piss me off. I'm trying to do the right thing."

He said that was the only time he was on the radio. During his cross 
examination, Brian Robertson, deputy attorney general, asked where he 
got the radio from.

"I snatched it from Royal Downs, the one you gave a plea too," Ayers said.

He said he enjoyed the rest of the time he could spend with his friends 
that night, knowing that once it was over, he'd likely never see them again.

He recalled conversations with Staats about how young men come into 
prison, get no rehabilitation in terms of job training before being let 
out only to find themselves back in jail.

He said that has to change and feels the motivation behind what became 
the uprising was sound.

"I love my comrades I’m going to stand by them 100 percent all the way," 
Ayers said.

Following Ayers' testimony, Staats took the stand and took credit for 
organizing the uprising and said Ayers had no involvement in the planning.

/Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or xwilson at delawareonline.com. 
Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter./


  First Vaughn Prison Revolt Trial Begins - UNICORN RIOT

By Chris Schiano, October 23, 2018

Wilmington, DE – On February 1, 2017, a prisoner uprising 
took place at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, 
Delaware. Over 100 inmates at the maximum security prison seized control 
of ‘Building C’ at the state Department of Corrections complex, taking 
several prison employees hostage in an uprising that would last almost 
24 hours. Those involved in the uprising demanded better living 
conditions, access to education, transparency in use of prison funds, 
and an end to inconsistent enforcement of prison policies. Now, more 
than a year and a half after the historic uprising, four defendants – 
Jarreau Ayers, Derric Forney, Dwayne Staats, and Roman Shankaras – are 
the first to face trial after refusing plea deals offered by prosecutors.

After police retook Building C on February 2, 2017, 18 prisoners were 
eventually indicted on felony counts of riot, conspiracy, first degree 
kidnapping, first degree assault, and first degree murder. Since one of 
the 18 – Royal ‘Diamond’ Downs – has turned state’s evidence, supporters 
are referring to the Vaughn uprising defendants as the “Smyrna 17” (The 
James T. Vaughn Correctional Center is in Smyrna, Delaware.) Apart from 
Ayers, Forney, Staats, and Shankaras, four other groups of prisoners 
face trials in between November 2018 and February 2019.

All four defendants seemed confident and prepared in court, sitting 
upright and paying close attention during opening arguments on Monday. 
Ayers and Staats are both representing themselves /pro se/ and appeared 
eager to finally confront the charges against them. The four defendants, 
all black men, were closely guarded in the courtroom at all times by at 
least 9 Delaware Department of Corrections officers, all of whom 
appeared to be white.

18 jurors  – 3 white men, 10 white women, 3 black men, & 2 black women 
– were seated around 10 AM in Judge William Carpenter’s courtroom on the 
8th floor of the Leonard C Williams Justice Center. After the jurors 
were sworn in, opening arguments for the state of Delaware were made by 
Assistant Attorney General Nichole Warner. Warner called February 1, 
2017, “*a day unlike any other*” and told jurors that “*suddenly and 
violently, a group of inmates took the building over*.”

In language echoing the failed federal rioting conspiracy case 
against protesters arrested at Trump’s inauguration, Assistant Attorney 
General Nichole Warner told jurors that prisoners who may have only 
intended to organize civil disobedience in their facility were still 
ultimately responsible for the death of Corrections Officer Steven Floyd:

    *“All people associated with the original crime can be held
    liable…even if there was no agreement [to commit murder].” –*
    Assistant Delaware Attorney General Nichole Warner

Assistant Attorney General Warner’s opening argument primarily focused 
on building the basic narrative of events that will be referred to by 
witnesses throughout the trial. She described how on February 1, 2017, 
when corrections officers (COs) called for inmates to come inside from 
the recreation yard to take showers, several masked prisoners attacked 
the COs with a mop wringer, subduing them and taking them hostage, 
restraining them with their own handcuffs.

Sergeant Steven Floyd, who would later be killed, was known to be 
verbally abusive towards inmates, according to defense lawyer Jason 
Antoine, who said he was known for yelling at prisoners in their cells. 
During the takeover, Floyd was initially detained by prisoners in a mop 
closet, but was later moved to the Sergeant’s office, where 
investigators would later find his corpse.

Two other COs, Winslow Smith and Joshua Wilkinson, were also taken 
hostage and reportedly beaten and injured, but survived. Smith was 
released during hostage negotiations, while Wilkinson was kept behind 
and used as a go-between during the final attempted negotiations until 
police retook Building C. A prison counselor was also taken hostage 
during the standoff but was not physically harmed.

Once the prisoners had taken control of Building C, they began 
negotiating over the radio for the release of the hostages. The 
prosecution alleges that defendant Dwayne Staats threatened to kill 
hostages over the radio, telling police “*if you breach, they will die 
immediately*” – a claim expected to be contested by Staats as the trial 
proceeds. The state played an extended sample of Department of 
Corrections radio chatter from the negotiations, although the recording 
had a severe echo effect that made it difficult to understand what was said.

The state acknowledged that they had absolutely no surveillance video 
footage from the prison that day. Around 2 PM on the day of the 
uprising, the prisoners involved in the takeover agreed to let other 
inmates with health conditions leave the building, with more being 
released later at midnight. Around 5 AM, militarized police with 
Delaware’s Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT) had breached 
building C, extracted the remaining hostages, and began subjugating the 
prisoners still inside the facility.

Images shown by the prosecution during opening arguments included 
pictures of burnt lockers, allegedly demonstrating how prisoners were 
burning bloody clothes to prevent them from being used as criminal 
evidence, and pictures of the mop wringer that was reportedly used to 
assault guards during the takeover.

Assistant Attorney General Warner went on to make more specific 
allegations against each of the defendants. Jarreau Ayers, she said, 
made a phone call from inside Vaughn on January 31, the day before the 
uprising, in which he allegedly said “*something big*” was going to 
happen soon and asked for money to be put on his commissary. The state 
also claimed that one of their cooperating witnesses would testify that 
Ayers attacked a CO and that he was seen “*giving orders*” during the 
riot. Warner mentioned defendant Derric Forney only briefly, claiming 
offhand that he “*assaulted officers*.”

Roman Shankaras was called a *“mastermind*” and “*shot caller*” although 
Warner also added that “*he didn’t assault anyone himself*.” The case 
against Shankaras seems to orbit around a kite (prison letter) that he 
wrote to another inmate, which his lawyer claims was written under 
duress. Dwayne Staats was also alleged to have been seen by cooperating 
inmate witnesses with a shank and a radio during the uprising as well as 
assaulting a CO and “*giving orders*” to other prisoners. The 
prosecution plans to use letters written by Staats to claim that he took 
responsibility for the riot and the death of Sergeant Floyd.

After Assistant Attorney General Warner finished outlining the state’s 
case against the defendants, each of the defendants made their opening 
arguments. Jason Antoine, defense counsel for Roman Shankaras, told 
jurors “*if you had to boil this case down to one thing… this is about 
dignity*” and argued that Shankaras and many other prisoners had simply 
planned to “*stand out in the yard to protest prison conditions*.” He 
also spoke about poor living conditions in Building C at Vaughn and told 
jurors that “*this riot had been brewing*” for a long time due to 
“*mistreatment*” and “*inconsistent policies*.” Antoine called the 
Vaughn Uprising “*a shock to the state of Delaware and a shock to the 
prison system*,” pointing out that it is the first time a corrections 
officer has been killed in a Delaware facility.

Defense counsel for Shankaras also pointed out the presence of a 
security camera that could have captured Shankaras’ presence in the 
recreation yard while the prison takeover happened inside. He says the 
state responded to his request for the footage by telling him that “*the 
camera location system only works from one location at a time*.”

He also named three specific “*bad apple guards*” – Abigail West, and 
Estrada Green and Lance Green – as particularly responsible for 
exacerbating tensions amongst prisoners inside Building C. Antoine also 
pointed out that Shankaras was either out of the yard or in his cell 
during most of the events in question, including with Sergeant Floyd was 
killed. He told jurors that his client was an “*outlier*” to the day’s 
events, didn’t give orders to anyone or talk on the radio, and was being 
charged as retaliation for not testifying against others.

Antoine spent most of his opening statement poking various holes in the 
testimony expected to be heard over the next few weeks from cooperating 
inmate witnesses. He further alleged that cooperating witnesses had been 
housed together by the state at Howard Young Correctional Facility so 
that they could rehearse their stories together. One state’s witness he 
brought to the jury’s attention was a convicted pedophile; another had 
admitted to being a compulsive liar. At one point he called the case 
“*garbage evidence in, garbage evidence out*” and went on to mention 
that one prosecution witness falsely claimed that Sergeant Floyd was 
beheaded. Another of the state’s cooperating witnesses reportedly stole 
Floyd’s watch off of his wrist.

Antoine seemed to relish getting to what he told jurors was the “*good 
part*” of his opening statement, telling them “*Hollywood ain’t ready 
for this*.” He was referring to Royal Diamond Downs, the state’s “*star 
witness*” who was himself a participant in the Vaughn Uprising before 
flipping to testify for the prosecution in exchange for dodging the 
murder changes. According to Antoine, Downs is “*one of the most 
influential people in the Delaware prison system*” and sat at the top of 
the prison hierarchy where he could order hits by different prison gangs 
such as Black Guerrilla Family and Dead Man’s Inc (DMI). He further 
alleged that Downs essentially “*ran*” Vaughn Correctional Center and 
that he was possibly the one who ordered Sergeant Floyd to be killed 
during the prison uprising. Radio from the February 1, 2017 standoff, as 
well as a recorded February 15, 2017 phone call Downs made to his 
girlfriend in which he seemed to take responsibility for Sergeant 
Floyd’s death and express remorse.

Next to give opening statements was Dwayne Staats, representing 
himself. Staats said that he was “*agitated*” by “*false allegations*” 
against him and insisted that the state was using other prisoners’ false 
testimony in order to try to wrongly convict him.

Staats asked jurors to be critical of the “*collage of misinformation 
that’s going to be presented to you*” and told them prosecutors were 
“*going to bombard you with inconsistencies and contradictions*.” Staats 
says that prosecution witness statements say that he was in places that 
he wasn’t on the day of the uprising and told the jury “*I didn’t wear a 
mask*” and “*I don’t have a clone that was running around*.” He ended by 
asking jurors to remember that they had to find him not guilty if the 
charges against him weren’t proven beyond a reasonable doubt: “*the 
scale is tilted my way … at this moment I’m presumed innocent*.”

Next to give opening statements, and also representing himself at trial, 
was defendant Jarreau Ayers. Ayers criticized the state for relying on 
testimony from Vaughn prisoners who were willing to “*lie to get a 
deal*” and said prosecutors were trying “*pick and choose evidence that 
fits their theory*.” He told jurors “*you got the right to be 
skeptical*” about the motives of witnesses in the case – a comment to 
which prosecutors objected, but Judge Carpenter overruled the objection. 
Ayers stressed that no DNA or forensic evidence has been brought against 
him, and that the state’s case has to rely on witnesses.

Ayers made further comments to the jury asking them to not take the 
trial proceedings at face value and to resist “*social conformity*” that 
might pressure them to “*choose the side of the state*.”

He also spoke to what he saw as the wider significance of the trial:

    *“I believe that this case has the opportunity to set the tone for
    how people look at “beyond a reasonable doubt” in our legal system.”
    – *Jarreau Ayers

Ayers went on to tell jurors how he had reviewed thousands of pages of 
legal documents to prepare for his trial and that “*the only thing 
consistent about this case is going to be the inconsistencies and 

Ayers showed the jury pictures of a broken mop handle, gloves, and a 
shank that had been used by the prosecution during their opening. “*The 
reality of it is none of these pieces of evidence have our DNA on it or 
the CO’s DNA on it*,” he said, asking jurors not to accept “*the level 
of prestige where I can just show you something because I’m the 
state…don’t allow the magnifying glass or the lights being so bright 
distract you from what is right*.”

Last to make an opening argument was Ben Gifford, defense counsel for 
Vaughn uprising defendant Derric Forney. Gifford mostly stressed that 
his client was presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that very 
little evidence at all had been presented against Forney. Forney’s 
lawyer also reminded jurors that each of the four defendants were 
entitled to be tried individually and that they shouldn’t let the state 
try to paint them as guilty by association with each other.

After opening arguments ended and the court took a lunch recess, trial 
resumed with the jurors hearing from the state’s two first witnesses, 
two investigators, tasked with analyzing evidence from Building C after 
police had put down the uprising. They shared an extensive list of 
details about evidence recovered after the fact. Testimony by Delaware 
State Police Corporal Roger Cresto, who took photographs of Building C 
on February 2, 2017 after the police raid, had not finished by the time 
Judge Carpenter decided to end court for the day. His testimony is 
scheduled to resume in front of the jury at 10 AM on Tuesday, October 23.

Follow Unicorn Riot on Twitter <https://twitter.com/UR_Ninja> for the 
most up-to-date information from inside the trial (we can’t tweet from 
court but post what we can on breaks!)

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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