DOVER, Del.- Roman Shankaras sat in a Delaware courtroom last month awaiting a verdict that would weigh heavily on his future.
Guilty verdicts on murder charges could potentially keep him behind bars forever. A full acquittal would mean he was a free man.
“At that point, I put the entirety of the case in God’s hands,” he said.
The verdict delivered by a jury in Delaware’s Superior Court was “not guilty” on all charges tied to the February 2017 inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, including two counts of first-degree murder in the death of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd.
Now a free man, Shankaras said said he is trying to find employment, help advance his fiancee’s nonprofit, and shake his association with a case that saw him accused of being an organizer of the deadly riot at the prison.
“I’m not what they painted me in the media to be,” he said.
On the day of Feb. 1, 2017, Shankaras said he was looking forward to getting out of prison in several months after serving a sentence for unrelated convictions on riot and robbery charges.
During the takeover and hostage situation, Shankaras claims he spent most of the time in his cell and denies having any involvement in what happened. The incident saw three correctional officers, including Floyd, and a counselor taken captive by inmates.
Two of the officers were released during the lengthy standoff, though authorities said Floyd was found dead when the prison building was breached by law enforcement the following morning.
“Their theory on me being a part of it, being adjacent to the negotiations, or behind the scenes, it was a fallacy overall,” Shankaras said.
Shankaras said he and other inmates were subjected to injuries from use of force by correctional officers and law enforcement retaking the building seized by inmates. He said following the incident, he was subjected to “sensory deprivation” and constant surveillance while being considered a possible suspect in the case.
A Department of Correction spokeswoman declined to comment on Shankaras’ claims about treatment during the retaking of the “C” Building or following the riot. She cited ongoing litigation surrounding the incident.
Twice, Shankaras said, prosecutors offered him plea deals that he rejected, including an offer for him to face 20 years in prison for second-degree murder in Floyd’s death.
“I let them know, I don’t know anything else,” he said.
Prosecutors have declined comment following each of the Vaughn trials, which have only resulted in one inmate, Dwayne Staats, being convicted on murder charges. Another inmate was convicted on offenses other than murder.
But so far, the large majority of the inmates charged in connection to the riot have dodged convictions on any charges tied to the incident. One inmate who was prepared to plead guilty in connection to the riot, Kelly Gibbs, hung himself, according to authorities.
Shankaras said prosecutors should consider dropping the remaining cases and criticized witnesses like Royal Downs, whom he alleged had duped him into writing letters later used as evidence against him court.
“People like that, they shouldn’t be used at all but that’s all they had,” he said.
Shankaras said he believes the takeover was sparked by inmates’ frustration over lack of re-entry and educational programs and treatment opportunities behind bars.
But he said Floyd’s should have been avoided and admitted to liking Floyd, whom he said was able to get him a job at the prison.
“It was a tragedy,” he said. “That shouldn’t have happened to anybody.”