Detainees armed with homemade knives fought for land and money for about seven hours, killing seven of them in the worst US prison strike in a quarter of a century, officials said Monday. An inmate who witnessed the violence told The Associated Press that the bodies were "literally stacked".
At least 17 prisoners were severely injured in the Lee Penitentiary, said Bryan Stirling, head of the South Carolina Prison. The first fight started at 19:15 in a dorm. Sunday and seemed to be before he suddenly started in two other dorms. Mobile phones helped stir up trouble, and state officials urged the federal government to change a law and allow them to block the signals from inmates.
"These people are fighting for real money and real territory while locked up," Stirling said at a news conference.
No prison guards were injured, Stirling said they followed the protocol by withdrawing and asking for support It took several hours to restore order, but as soon as a special SWAT team entered, the inmates gave up peacefully, he said.
The prisoner who saw the uprising exchanged messages with AP on the condition of anonymity because he can not have a cell phone and fears retaliation by other inmates.
He said he saw several assailants mocking a rival gang member.
"I've just seen three dead on the sidewalk in front of my unit , One guy is still alive and breathing, but barely, "said the inmate.
The uproar was the recent violence in the South Carolina prison system, where at least 1
The inmate who spoke with AP so many already Before the uprising, the door locks were broken and he and other inmates wandered freely in Bishopville Prison, 40 miles east of Columbia, and hours after the violence began, no law enforcement officers or medical personnel helped the dead or dying, he said.
] "The COs (Correctional Officers) have never tried to help or suppress the disturbance" He said, "They were just sitting in the control bubble, calling the problem in, then sitting on their collective asses."
Stirling said the response teams arrived as soon as possible.
"We gathered as many people as possible as fast as we could and got in as soon as we thought it was safe for our employees," he said.
The inmate told AP that he knew at least two of the slain men well. He said he had seen a prisoner trying to get up before he "got into the death rattle" that people often hear about but never hear first-hand.
Most of the slain inmates were stabbed or cut with homemade knives while the rest seemed to have been struck, Lee County coroner Larry Logan said, stirling said an investigation would determine if any other type of weapon was used. The dead were serving anywhere from 10 years to life imprisonment and their crimes ranged from murder to burglary to illegal crack trafficking, the youngest was 28 years old, the oldest 44 years old.
The injured inmates had to go outside Stirling said.
The coroner said when he arrived a chaotic scene of the fight everywhere, Logan said that the state's Lee Correctional Institution, like most others, was under medical treatment Prisons in South Carolina struggling to find enough workers, but he does not believe that something could be done when things are out of control.
"If everyone's got a riot, they'll always be understaffed," Logan said.
The Bishopville high-security facility houses about 1,500 inmates and there were 44 guards when the first fight began.
"It's an incredibly bad day in South Carolina," said Senator Gerald Malloy, whose district includes Lee Correctional. "We failed, that's it."
In 2015, two police officers were stung on Lee Correctional. More recently, one inmate held a guard in hostage for 90 minutes in March, and another killed a fellow prisoner in February
Lee has been at the top of every South Carolina jail in recent years. Four inmates were killed last year by a pair of prisoners at the Kirkland Correctional Institution
Gov. Henry McMaster praised Stirling's response and said he was outraged that the state could not block mobile phone signals in prisons.
"There are prisons across the country – state prisons, federal prisons – that would be safer with this traffic jam," he said.
Stirling said the officials planned to meet with the mobile phone industry next month to discuss solutions, but "until that is done, the detainees will continue their criminal activities behind bars."
Associated Press authors Jeffrey Collins and Christina Myers in Colombia contributed to this report.