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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 1:00 am

7 inmates dead in prison riot; worst since '93

MEG KINNARD | Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Inmates armed with homemade knives fought one another for about 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. 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 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.

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.