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Inmate testifies about negotiations in Vaughn riot

Sarah Mueller
Delaware Public Media
Building C where the riot occurred at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center

As the trials of three inmates allegedly involved in last year’s riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center continue, the state has called one of its key witnesses—an inmate who also allegedly participated in the riot.


Royal Downs is an inmate from Maryland currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and other charges.


He testified Monday that Dwayne Staats was one of the voices on a recording of negotiations between inmates and Department of Correction staff during the riot.


He also said he saw Staats holding a knife.


Staats is currently being tried for his alleged involvement in the Vaughn riot alongside two other defendants.


Downs was one of two inmates charged last fall with kidnapping, riot and conspiracy but not murder for his role in the Vaughn riot. He has already pleaded guilty to riot. Sixteen others face the kidnapping, riot, conspiracy, and assault charges as well as murder.


Downs admits he was involved in negotiations during the standoff. He says he asked DOC negotiators to turn the electricity, water and phones on in the building so that inmates could call the media.


He called the people in charge at Vaughn at the time “murderous.” He says he thought that transparency provided by the media was the only thing stopping Corrections from “doing some damage to some people.”


Downs claims his motivation for stepping into negotiations was to help end the standoff to “save lives.”


While cross examining Downs, pro se defendant Dwayne Staats played a recording of hostage negotiations with Department of Correction staff during the riot.


In the recording, an inmate can be heard saying, "Floyd [is] already down, he about to get cancelled. You keep playing … somebody else going to be next." 

Staats asked Downs who the voices were. Downs said “you and me.”  

When pressed as to which voice said what, Downs said he wasn't sure.

Downs claims he saw Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd being assaulted twice.

Downs claims he was not involved in the assault of any of the three correctional officers who were held in the building, and did not name any of the three defendants currently on trial as the assaulters.

Downs says that Staats was involved with meetings planning a protest in the yard.

Downs claims he himself was not privy to details of any planned riot.

How central Downs allegedly was to planning and executing the riot has been disputed by defendants.

When asked by Deputy Attorney General John Downs why he talked to authorities, Royal Downs said one of the reasons was that he thought his involvement in negotiations during the riot would result in him being the only one charged.

He said that no promises had been made to him by authorities.

Downs repeted this sentiment later, when pro se defendant Dwayne Staats cross-examined him.

Staats asked Downs if he intends to have the state vouche for him at his parole hearings. Downs said he does not.

This story has been updated.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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