7 killed in prison riot

The Daily Courier - - OKANAGAN - By The As­so­ci­ated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — In­mates armed with home­made knives fought each other for more than seven hours over ter­ri­tory and money, leav­ing seven of them dead in the worst U.S. prison riot in a quar­ter-cen­tury, of­fi­cials said Mon­day. An in­mate who wit­nessed the vi­o­lence told The As­so­ci­ated Press that bod­ies were “lit­er­ally stacked on top of each other.”

At least 17 pris­on­ers were se­ri­ously in­jured at Lee Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion, South Carolina pris­ons chief Bryan Stir­ling said. The first fight started in a dorm about 7:15 p.m. Sun­day and ap­peared to be con­tained be­fore sud­denly start­ing in two other dorms, Stir­ling said. Cell­phones helped stir up the trou­ble, and of­fi­cials urged the fed­eral govern­ment to change the law and al­low them to block the sig­nals so that pris­on­ers can’t use the cell­phones.

“These peo­ple are fight­ing about real money and real ter­ri­tory when they are in­car­cer­ated,” Stir­ling said at a news con­fer­ence.

No prison guards were hurt. Stir­ling said they fol­lowed pro­to­col by back­ing out and ask­ing for sup­port. Stir­ling said it took sev­eral hours to res­tore or­der, but once a spe­cial SWAT team en­tered, the in­mates gave up peace­fully.

The pris­oner who saw the riot ex­changed mes­sages with AP on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he is not al­lowed to have a cell­phone and fears ret­ri­bu­tion from other in­mates.

He also didn’t say what started the riot but said most of the in­mates are af­fil­i­ated with gangs and he saw sev­eral at­tack­ers taunt a ri­val gang mem­ber who was badly in­jured.

“I just saw three dead on the side­walk out­side of my unit. One guy is still alive and breath­ing, but just barely,” the in­mate said.

The riot was the lat­est vi­o­lence in the South Carolina pris­ons sys­tem, where at least 13 other in­mates have been killed by fel­low pris­on­ers since the start of 2017. It was the most in­mates slain in a sin­gle riot in the U.S. since nine pris­on­ers and a guard died in 1993 at the South­ern Ohio Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity, said Steve Martin, a con­sul­tant who helps the fed­eral govern­ment mon­i­tor prison sys­tems.

The in­mate who spoke to AP said that many cell door locks were al­ready bro­ken be­fore the riot and that he and other pris­on­ers roamed around freely. Hours after the vi­o­lence started, no cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers or med­i­cal per­son­nel at­tended to the dead or dy­ing, he said.

“It’s been over two hours, but no COs (corrections of­fi­cers) have re­sponded to this unit, and no med­i­cal per­son­nel have at­tempted to ren­der any kind of aid,” he wrote. “The COs never even at­tempted to ren­der aid, nor quell the dis­tur­bance. They just sat in the con­trol bub­ble, called the is­sue in, then sat on their col­lec­tive asses.”

Stir­ling said the re­sponse teams en­tered as quickly as they safely could.

The in­mate told AP that he knew at least two of the slain men well. He said he saw an in­mate try­ing to get up be­fore he “started into that ‘death rat­tle’ peo­ple of­ten hear about, but never ex­pe­ri­ence first­hand.”

Most of the slain in­mates were stabbed with home­made knives or slashed, while the re­main­der ap­peared to have been beaten, Lee County Coro­ner Larry Lo­gan said. The slain were serv­ing any­where from 10 years to life in prison and their crimes ranged from mur­der to bur­glary to traf­fick­ing crack co­caine. They youngest was 28 years old while the old­est was 44.

The in­jured in­mates re­quired med­i­cal at­ten­tion out­side the prison, which made it more dif­fi­cult for au­thor­i­ties to res­tore or­der, Stir­ling said.

The coro­ner said when he ar­rived it was a chaotic scene of fight­ing ev­ery­where. Lo­gan said the state-run Lee Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion, like most other South Carolina pris­ons, is strug­gling to find enough work­ers, but he doesn’t be­lieve any­thing could be done once things got that far out of con­trol.

“If ev­ery­body has an up­ris­ing, you are al­ways go­ing to be un­der­staffed,” Lo­gan said.

The max­i­mum-se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity in Bish­opville houses about 1,500 in­mates and there were 44 guards there when the first fight started about 7:15 p.m. Sun­day.

Two of­fi­cers were stabbed there in 2015. An in­mate held a guard hostage for 90 min­utes in March and an­other killed a fel­low pris­oner in Fe­bru­ary.

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