Delaware prison officials are investigating allegations that a group of correctional employees including a warden verbally and physically harassed a woman overseeing a group of preschool children during a park outing.
The May 10 incident involved a dispute over parking at Glasgow Park, where the prison employees were having a barbecue to celebrate National Correctional Officer Appreciation Week.
Amanda Hobson said the Department of Correction employees, including Warden Carole Evans, targeted her with vulgar language and an obscene gesture in front of the preschoolers because the prison officials thought they were entitled to the parking space she was using.
Hobson, owner of Imagination Station in Elkton, Md., said the prison employees refused to agree to watch the children temporarily so she could move her car. She called police after they then blocked in her car with one of their vehicles and with a grill, preventing her from leaving.
Hobson also said the prison officials, three of whom were in uniform, circled her and the children and took photos of them. At one point, Evans spoke into her phone, reciting Hobson's license plate number and acting like she was directing another person to obtain information on Hobson, she said.
"She repeated my license plate, and then she said, 'I want her name and information.' She was purposely saying it loud enough so I could hear her."
Another prison official, meanwhile, called her a vulgar name and gave her the middle finger, Hobson said.
"I was upset, I was crying," Hobson said. "I had seven kids I was caring for. ... They were freaking out."
Evans, warden of the Plummer Community Corrections Center in Wilmington, declined to speak about the incident Friday, saying DOC officials are not allowed to speak to the media.
A DOC spokeswoman said the "alleged incident" was under investigation and the department could not comment further.
Hobson said that during the incident, a child fell and hit his head hard on the concrete, but that the DOC employees showed no concern and did nothing to help.
"They just continued to stand there. They were laughing and making jokes about their grill," she said.
Hobson said that after she called New Castle County Police, an officer who arrived seemed to side with the prison officials, and at one point spoke privately with Evans.
Jason Miller, spokesman for New Castle County, said the officer worked with both parties to resolve the matter.
Miller confirmed that the correctional officers had reserved a park pavilion by submitting a permit application and paying a $150 reservation fee.
"The group contends this vehicle took up space they were entitled to use for their gathering and they subsequently parked a grill next to the vehicle, which blocked it in," he said in an email.
Miller noted that county park pavilion reservations do not come with reserved parking spaces. Moreover, the incident occurred on a short access pathway connecting the pavilion and the roadway that is used by maintenance staff and for temporary drop-off access for pavilion users, but is not a designated parking spot.
Miller also said that because the correctional officers brought in an outside grill without prior authorization, in violation of park rules, the county withheld $50 from the group's security deposit.
Hobson said that as she and the children left the park, one turned to her and said, "Ms. Amanda, I don't understand. I thought the police were supposed to be the good guys."
"That just broke my heart," she said.