Bryan Stirling, director of the Corrections Department, told reporters that after the first fight broke out in a dorm, a second and third started about two and a half hours later in two other dorms. Emergency Officials were rescued by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, a nationwide law enforcement agency.
Forty-four officers worked at a facility housing about 1,500 inmates, Stirling said.
Meanwhile, it usually takes one to two hours to safely clear a dormitory housing about 250 inmates. This was an unusual case because the fighting took place in three separate dormitories, officials said.
"We'll gather strength and we'll go in and force this dormitory back," Stirling said, "we will not endanger our officers and other staff."
Inmates did not resist when the Stirling could not confirm an Associated Press report from an inmate who said he had witnessed the violence and had "literally stacked" bodies on top of one another.
Stirling said that the corpses were left at fences but were taken there by other inmates, not officers.
Several emergency crews in the area were called to the "mass casualty" situation, Lee County Fire and Rescue reported Monday Fire / Rescue has helped Lee Correctional with a massacre, with help from FlorenceCounty EM S, Kershaw County EMS, Darlington County EMS, Lexington County EMS and Hartsville Rescue. Support also gave Med One a private service. pic.twitter.com/P22A1ruzQY
– Lee County Fire (@LeeCountyFire) April 16, 2018
The inmates who died were later identified as Raymond Scott, 28; Michael Milledge, 44; Damonte Rivera, 24; Eddie Gaskins, 32; Joshua Jenkins, 33; Corey Scott, 38; and Cornelius McClary, 33.
Lee Correctional, approximately 40 miles east of Columbia, is home to some of South Carolina's most violent and longest serving offenders. Two officers were stabbed in a fight of 2015. One inmate killed another in February.
A guard was also overpowered by several Lee Correctional inmates last month, allowing them to take control of a building for over an hour.
In another situation, in 2012 an officer was attacked while accompanying a nurse in one of the buildings, resulting in a six-hour stalemate. The inmates reportedly used smuggled mobile phones to call their 911 emergency number, but were stopped after more than 100 officers and agents used tear gas.
Smuggled mobile phones are still a big problem in southern prisons. In South Carolina, officials have found and taken a phone for every three inmates, the highest rate in the country, NBC News reported last year.
McMaster said he advocates that the Federal Communications Commission block cell phone signals in prisons could deter deterrence and other criminal activities behind bars. The FCC has argued that it is the prisons for police use and the fear that the disruption of cell signals may affect users outside prisons.
South Carolina has also struggled with an increase in prisoner killings, according to government data. 19659002] The number of inmates killed in prison by other inmates rose from three in 2015 to 12 in 2017. Two of the deaths occurred last year at Lee Correctional, according to The State.
Stirling said chronic understaffing has resulted in fewer employees being available to monitor inmates. Lee Correctional has nearly 30 percent vacancies for front officers.
In addition to the difficulties prisons face, detainees are often unwilling to snoop on impending violence.
"It's hard to investigate these matters in prison, people I'm just not going to tell," Stirling told the state in January. "That's just the prison culture, you see something, you do not say anything."
State law enforcement officers said on Monday that they would continue to investigate inmates' deaths.