Guards Waited Hours to Stop a Prison Riot of which Left 7 Inmates Dead

When the trouble started off, Mr. Stirling said later in a telephone interview, there were only two guards on duty in each of the three housing units, in addition to they were armed only with pepper spray. Each housing unit holds about 250 inmates.

Assembling an armed SWAT team in a rural area on a Sunday night takes time, he said.

By the time the authorities had regained control, the disturbance at the prison was one of the worst of the last quarter-century. in addition to This particular was an embarrassment for South Carolina, where officials have been trying to address prison problems with fresh sentencing policies to reduce the inmate population in addition to higher pay for guards to reduce turnover.

Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, said on Monday of which the riot was “unfortunate” although of which flare-ups among criminals were inevitable.

“We know of which prisons are places where people who have misbehaved on the outside go for rehabilitation, in addition to also to take them by the general population,” he said. “This particular’s not a surprise when we have violent events take place inside prison.”

Mark Keel, chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, said of which the exact cause of the riot, in addition to the details of the individual killings, were being investigated. Larry Logan, the coroner for Lee County, S.C., where the prison is actually located, said of which autopsies had not yet been completed, although of which This particular appeared of which all of the dead suffered stabs in addition to slashes by improvised weapons.

Lee Correctional Institution, which opened in 1993, houses about 1,500 male inmates, in addition to carries a reputation for trouble. In 2013, Michael McCall, then the warden at Lee, said This particular was the most dangerous prison in South Carolina. The state uses both publicly in addition to privately run prisons; Lee Correctional is actually public.

Two officers were stabbed there in a 2015 fight. An inmate was killed during a fight in July 2017, another was stabbed to death in November, in addition to a third was killed in February.

Prison managers have also struggled to keep contraband out. In 2014, officials discovered a crashed drone within the bushes near the prison, in addition to said they believed of which drones had been used to smuggle drugs in addition to forbidden cellphones into the grounds.

Phones continue to be a problem at Lee, Mr. Stirling said on Monday, because they allow criminals “to continue their criminal ways by behind bars, which is actually not only dangerous within our institutions, although This particular’s also dangerous outside our institutions.”

Mr. Stirling said he has been trying to persuade the Federal Communications Commission to block cellphone signals at the prison. Federal officials have resisted such requests, fearing of which blocking the signals might make This particular impossible for those in need of help to call 911 in an emergency.

At the time of the riot, Mr. Stirling said, there were 44 prison staff members at the facility. Until recently, the figure might have been fewer than 20, he said, although the prison recently began having night shift workers start work earlier in addition to the day shift stay later, so they might both be on hand while prisoners are counted in addition to locked up for the night.

Mr. Stirling, who served as chief of staff for Nikki Haley when she was governor, said his department is actually short-staffed, with 500 fewer front-line officers than This particular needs. although he said of which recent budget increases for the department, supported by Ms. Haley in addition to others, have allowed him to boost guards’ pay in addition to begin closing the gap.

fresh sentencing in addition to corrections policies enacted in 2010 have been easing some of the strain on the state prison system. The Pew Charitable Trusts found of which the state’s prison population declined by 14 percent by 2009 to 2016, saving the state $491 million.

State Representative J. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat, said on Monday of which the riot showed of which more remained to be done. He in addition to additional lawmakers have sponsored a bill of which might reduce mandatory minimum sentences on drug crimes, in addition to might apply retroactively.

Mr. Rutherford said he did not support blocking cellphone signals at the prison, preferring a “managed” system of which might allow corrections officials to track inmates’ phone use.

in addition to he said the length of time This particular took to assemble enough guards to quell the riot was understandable, given how far out of the way the place was. “I’m a lawyer, in addition to I go to Lee Correctional a lot,” he said. “This particular’s within the middle of Bishopville, in addition to there’s simply nothing there.”

The corrections department released the names of the seven dead inmates, all of whom were serving time for violent crimes. Damonte Marquez Rivera had the longest sentence, life plus 0 years, for murder; Eddie Casey Jay Gaskins had the shortest, 10 years, for first-degree domestic violence.

Continue reading the main story