Here's a look at news and events from around southern Delaware this week.
Guards, wardens at Sussex Correctional sued
Two men who say they were attacked by prison guards at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown are suing the warden, deputy warden and multiple guards. According to the lawsuit, William Davis, a Bear resident who said he was detained despite a court ordered release, and Issac Montague, still in custody at SCI, were beaten in separate incidents in September and October. The lawsuit says there is “an ongoing and egregious pattern of the use of excessive force at SCI."
According to court documents, in September correctional officer Kirk Neal attacked Montague in his cell without provocation, and was then joined by other guards. They kneed him in the face, kicked and punched him, hit him with handcuffs, pulled out dreadlocks leaving bald spots, and called him a "racist name." The suit also accuses officer Ryan Maddox of putting a pepper spray nozzle in Montague’s mouth and forcing large amounts of spray into him.
The lawsuit says about a month later, Davis was trying to find out about his release when Neal accosted him, slamming him to the ground. Neal was again joined by other officers, according to the account, and they kicked and beat Davis even after handcuffing him. One of the guards is also accused of spraying pepper spray up Davis’ nose. Neal later slammed Davis face first into the concrete floor of a cell, the lawsuit said.
Both men say they are still dealing with injuries from the assaults.
The ACLU of Delaware is representing the men, along with attorney Daniel Griffith. In an interesting small-state turn of events, Griffith serves as attorney for Seaford and in that role is giving the city legal advice on the fetal remains ordinance the ACLU and other groups have threatened a lawsuit over.
In the prison case, ACLU of Delaware Legal Director Susan Burke said in a statement, “People who are incarcerated are under the care of the Department of Correction. DOC is directly responsible for any harm that comes to these individuals at the hands of people on their payroll. This is about basic safety and human dignity — SCI must do better.”
The Department of Correction said in a statement, “The Department of Correction learned of the lawsuits over the weekend through the news media and we are reviewing them at this time. This is now a matter before the courts and we will respond to the allegations through the legal system.”
Seaford election open for candidates
The city of Seaford is holding its next election on April 16, 2022 for mayor and one Council seat. The seats are currently held by David Genshaw, serving his fourth term as mayor, and Matthew MacCoy, first elected to Council in 2019 and serving his first term.
People interested in running for either position can register by Feb. 25, 2022 at City Hall at 414 High Street, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The mayor serves a two-year term and the Council position is a three-year term.
This election might create more buzz than usual, given that Seaford just passed the aforementioned fetal remains ordinance that garnered statewide attention and the ire of groups like the ACLU and the Delaware chapter of the National Organization for Women. But those groups are not city voters, so it remains to be seen how the electorate feels about the move, or if the decision will have any impact at all on the election.
To run for a seat, people need to be at least 18 and U.S. citizens, and need to have lived in the city for at least a year before the election. They also have to be paid up on their city taxes and cannot have a felony conviction.
The requirements to vote are similar: People must be residents of the city, U.S. citizens, and registered with the state Department of Elections. The deadline to register is 5 p.m. March 26. Property owners who don’t live in the city can actually vote too; they need to register at City Hall by the same deadline.
These are the candidates in the Greenwood election
In Greenwood, the deadline has passed to file for candidacy for the Jan. 15 election. Three seats, the majority of the Council, are up for a vote. It’s a crowded field: Willard Russell, Donald Torbert and Norman Reed, the incumbents, are all running for reelection, and they are being challenged by Anthony Massey, Michael Phillips, Lavonn Johnson and Lisa Workman.
Harrington gets a new council member
In Harrington, Bob Farmer was sworn in to the District 1 seat on Monday to fill out the term of Joe Gannon, who stepped down in November to go to sea on his sailboat.
Gannon, who recommended Farmer for the seat, called him a practical, down-to-earth person who would be really good for the city.
Farmer is a retired heavy equipment operator who moved to Delaware in the ‘80s while he was in the military (he served in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve). He moved to Harrington when he married his wife, a native of the city.
The term ends in May, and Farmer said he’ll probably run for the seat at that time.
For now, he plans to get to know his district better and hopes to do a meet-and-greet with residents at some point.
“I’ve been in town long enough, I just try to fix things,” he said. Residents may have seen him out and about picking up trash, a sort of neighborhood improvement hobby of his.
Laurel man killed while cutting up trees, state police say
A 59-year-old Laurel man died Monday after a tree snapped and struck him, state police said.
The man was working for a tree company clearing a lot, and was cutting up a tree on the ground when his chainsaw got stuck. Another employee lifted the tree with an excavator so he could get the chainsaw out, which he did, but when he turned to walk away the tree snapped and hit him in the upper body, police said.
The man died at Beebe Healthcare. The Delaware Division of Forensic Science will do an autopsy. The man's name was withheld pending notification of family.
Former state senator Venables dies
Former state Sen. Bob Venables of the Laurel area has died at age 88, news outlets reported Sunday. He was 88.
Venables, a Democrat, served 26 years in the Senate.
Democratic Sen. Dave Sokola, president pro tempore of the Senate, said in a statement, "I had the pleasure of working closely with Bob on the Bond Bill for several years and he was deeply committed to prudent investments across our state, yet always fought for his beloved Sussex County to get its share."
He also noted Venables' efforts to protect natural areas.
The Delaware State News published one of the more in-depth articles on Venables' death and his career.
Slam Dunk to the Beach returns with some changes
The high-profile high school basketball tournament Slam Dunk to the Beach is back in Lewes on Monday, after a year's hiatus because of COVID. The event brings some of the top young basketball talent in the country to the area, with tournament alumni including players like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard (and, of course, Delaware’s own Donte DiVincenzo). The tournament organizers recently partnered with Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to make it the Hoophall East/Slam Dunk to the Beach, so the branding isn't quite the same. But organizers promise an “elevated event.”
The tournament starts Monday, Dec. 27, and runs through Wednesday. Local teams, the Cape Henlopen girls and Seaford boys, will participate. Tickets are available online, and there's also a livestream on the Slam Dunk to the Beach YouTube channel.
Southern Delaware in photos
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Mountaire workers oust their union
Mountaire Farms announced last Friday that workers at the Selbyville plant overwhelmingly voted to remove a union there by a margin of 356-80.
An effort had been underway for months to decertify the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 union. The National Labor Relations Board invalidated a vote taken in June and July last year, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which supported the case to remove the union.
Mountaire said Selbyville is its only processing plant with unions, which came with the plant when the company bought it in 1977.
Start planning to trash your Christmas tree now
You see a beautiful decorated Christmas tree, but the state department of natural resources sees a potential future trash problem.
In the days before Christmas, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, thinking ahead, reminded residents to recycle their Christmas trees at a local yard waste recycling facility.
Delaware State Parks are no longer accepting Christmas trees for recycling, DNREC said in the news release, but there are a number of yard waste recyclers around the state, which you can find at de.gov/yardwaste.
The department emphasized that recycling trees saves landfill space. It’s against the rules to dump yard waste in Delaware landfills anyway, even if landfill space isn’t a concern that tugs at your heartstrings. And yes, if you were wondering, Christmas trees specifically count as yard waste.
Homeless shelters still need volunteers
Code Purple Sussex County, which coordinates volunteer emergency homeless shelters that are often located at churches, said in a Facebook post that it needs overnight help. A few volunteers are dealing with illness, and the St. Luke’s shelter is in danger of closing on some days, the post said.
“We have one wonderful lady that is staying way too many nights at Grace in order to provide shelter for the ladies. Let’s not let her get worn out staying 3 plus nights a week,” the post said.
If you want to volunteer, here is the form.
In case you missed it: Stories from the past week
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