In­mates armed

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Amy B Wang and Mark Berman

with home­made knives fight each other for more than seven hours inside a max­i­mum­se­cu­rity prison, leav­ing seven of them dead. At least 17 were se­ri­ously in­jured, too.

Nearly eight hours of ri­ot­ing at a max­i­mum-se­cu­rity South Carolina prison left at least seven in­mates dead and 17 oth­ers in­jured, au­thor­i­ties said.

State of­fi­cials de­fended their re­sponse to the prison brawl — one of the dead­li­est in the coun­try’s re­cent his­tory — amid al­le­ga­tions that of­fi­cers did lit­tle to curb the vi­o­lence early on and did not ren­der aid as quickly as they could have.

Fight­ing be­gan around 7:15 p.m. Sun­day at one of the hous­ing units at Lee Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion, as de­ten­tion of­fi­cers were con­duct­ing a nightly check-in, state cor­rec­tions di­rec­tor Bryan Stir­ling said at a news con­fer­ence Mon­day.

Around 8:30 p.m., two more fights erupted at two other hous­ing units at Lee Cor­rec­tional as well, he said.

The fight­ing trig­gered a stan­dard re­sponse in which guards at each of the dorms left the hous­ing units and called for backup, Stir­ling said.

“They’re out­num­bered, so they’re trained to back out of that dorm and call for sup­port,” Stir­ling said. “And that’s what we be­lieve they did last night be­cause sup­port ar­rived im­me­di­ately.”

Ac­cord­ing to Stir­ling, backup teams from the South Carolina Law En­force­ment Di­vi­sion en­tered the first hous­ing unit at 11:30 p.m. Sun­day to “take that dorm back.”

They did the same for the sec­ond and third dorms at 12:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Mon­day, re­spec­tively, he said.

The prison was se­cured at 2:55 a.m. Mon­day, and no of­fi­cers or staff mem­bers were harmed, of­fi­cials said.

SLED spokesman Thom Berry said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­der­way “to de­ter­mine what caused the dis­tur­bance.”

Stir­ling said they be­lieved that word of the fight spread from the first dorm to the oth­ers through con­tra­band cell­phones.

“This was all about ter­ri­tory. This was about con­tra­band. This was about cell­phones,” Stir­ling said. “These folks are fight­ing over real money and real ter­ri­tory when they are in­car­cer­ated.”

Late Mon­day morn­ing, the cor­rec­tions de­part­ment iden­ti­fied the seven dead in­mates as Ray­mond Angelo Scott, Michael Milledge, Da­monte Mar­quez Rivera, Ed­die Casey Jay Gask­ins, Joshua Svwin Jenk­ins, Corey Scott and Cornelius Quantral McClary.

The Lee County coro­ner told The As­so­ci­ated Press that most of the dead ap­peared to have been killed by stab­bing or slash­ing.

Emer­gency crews from at least a half-dozen agen­cies re­sponded to the “mass ca­su­alty in­ci­dent,” ac­cord­ing to Lee County Fire and Res­cue.

Lee Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion is one of South Carolina’s high­est-se­cu­rity prisons, which means the in­mates are gen­er­ally tightly mon­i­tored and their move­ments inside the fa­cil­ity are lim­ited.

Of South Carolina’s nine all-male, max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prisons, Lee Cor­rec­tional — in Bish­opville, about 60 miles north­east of Columbia — is the largest.

The prison houses about 1,600 in­mates, the ma­jor­ity of them in gen­eral hous­ing rather than more re­stricted hous­ing, ac­cord­ing to state records.

Vi­o­lence at Lee Cor­rec­tional is not un­com­mon. Dur­ing the past year, at least three in­mates were killed in sep­a­rate in­ci­dents, while last month, in­mates held an of­fi­cer hostage for about 90 min­utes be­fore re­leas­ing him, ac­cord­ing to the State news­pa­per.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the State’s John Monk found that the num­ber of in­mates killed across the state’s prisons had quadru­pled from three in­mates in 2015 to 12 in­mates in 2017.

Stir­ling told Monk that the trend can be partly at­trib­uted to an in­crease in in­mates ob­tain­ing cell­phones, chronic un­der­staffing, gang ri­val­ries and a higher ra­tio of vi­o­lent pris­on­ers to non­vi­o­lent ones.

On Mon­day, Gov. Henry McMaster told the AP that he had “com­plete con­fi­dence” in Stir­ling as the head of the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions. At a news con­fer­ence, he seemed to char­ac­ter­ize the riot as an un­for­tu­nate but un­sur­pris­ing in­ci­dent be­cause in­mates “take their vi­o­lent ways with them” when in­car­cer­ated.

More than 20,400 in­mates were held in South Carolina fa­cil­i­ties last year.


Lee Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion is one of South Carolina’s high­est-se­cu­rity prisons. In­mates are tightly mon­i­tored.

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