7 DIE IN PRISON BRAWL

In­mates slashed, beaten and slain with home­made knives.

The Citizens' Voice - - Nation & World - BY MEG KINNARD

COLUMBIA, S.C. — In­mates armed with home­made knives fought each other for about seven hours over ter­ri­tory and money, leav­ing seven of them dead in the worst U.S. prison riot in a quar­ter­century, 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. Cell­phones helped stir up the trouble, and state of­fi­cials urged the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to change a law and al­low them to block the sig­nals from pris­on­ers’ phones.

“These folks are fight­ing over real money and real ter­ri­tory while they’re in­car­cer­ated,” Stir­ling said at a news con­fer­ence.

No guards hurt

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

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 said 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.

Cell locks bro­ken

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 at the prison in Bish­opville, lo­cated 40 miles east of Columbia. Hours af­ter the vi­o­lence started, no cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers or med­i­cal per­son­nel at­tended to the dead or dy­ing, he said.

“The COS (cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers) never even at­tempted to ren­der aid, nor quell the dis­tur­bance,” he said.

Stir­ling said the re­sponse teams en­tered as fast as they could.

“We gath­ered as many peo­ple as we could, as quickly as we could and went in as soon as we thought it was safe for our staff,” he said.

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.”

Home­made weapons

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. Stir­ling said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion would de­ter­mine if any other type of weapon was used.

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 staterun 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.

“It’s an in­cred­i­bly bad day in South Carolina,” said Sen. Ger­ald Mal­loy, whose district in­cludes Lee Cor­rec­tional. “We failed. That’s it.”

SOUTH CAROLINA DEPART­MENT OF COR­REC­TIONS VIA AP

In­mates killed in a riot at Lee Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion are, from left, top row: Corey Scott, Ed­die Casey Gask­ins, Ray­mond An­gelo Scott and Da­monte Rivera; bot­tom row, Michael Milledge, Cor­nelius Mcclary and Joshua Jenk­ins.

SEAN RAYFORD / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mul­ti­ple in­mates were killed and oth­ers se­ri­ously in­jured amid fight­ing be­tween pris­on­ers in­side Lee Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion, the max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison in South Carolina.

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