A newly released cellphone video shows inmates at South Carolina's Lee Correctional Institution walking with large knives during a bloody eight-hour riot in a prison dormitory over the weekend.
The video raises questions about whether prison officials are doing enough to prevent inmates from having weapons and whether law enforcement officers could have intervened sooner, according to a legislator who released the video.
In one scene, a prisoner holding what appeared to be a homemade knife and wearing a dark hoodie, concealing his head, walks toward a wounded inmate sitting up against a wall. In another scene, a second knife-wielding inmate walks by a prison cell where several other inmates are taking shelter from the violence.
Most inmates appear to be in their cells during the time the video was shot.
"The person who gave me this video wanted it shared so people would know" what went on in the maximum-security prison during the weekend riot, said state Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, who released the video. "It raises the question of weapons in the prisons — no one is talking about how an inmate could have a weapon like that in a maximum-security prison and no one find out about it until someone is killed with it."
Bamberg, a lawyer, represented the family of Walter Scott, an unarmed African-American motorist who was shot and killed by a North Charleston police officer in 2015. Bamberg played a role in making the video of that shooting available to the media.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and state Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told reporters Monday that one cause of the Lee Correctional riot was the illegal use of cellphones by inmates. However, Bamberg said the prevalence of homemade knives — or shanks — also is a significant factor.
Seven people died and 22 were injured in the Lee riot, the nation's deadliest prison riot in 25 years.
"Everybody is talking about cellphone contraband," Bamberg said. "I want to know where a 6-inch weapon came from."
Another issue the cellphone video raises is the lack of a rapid response team at prisons, especially at the state's maximum security prisons where outbreaks of violence are most likely to occur, Bamberg said.
In the Lee riot, it took authorities roughly five hours to assemble emergency teams to go into prison dormitories to restore order and retrieve the injured and slain, officials said Monday. Law enforcement officers had to be brought in from across the state to enter the dorms.
But Bamberg said the tape shows that most inmates appeared to be in their cells in at least one dorm. That means an on-site emergency response team could have entered that building and secured it sooner, giving medical attention to wounded inmates, the legislator said.
"You tell me what anarchy you see in that video," Bamberg said. "It took over five hours to assemble the response teams in this case, and by that time, the injured inmates that could have been saved have bled out."
Having on-site response teams at prisons to deal with emergencies like the Lee riot needs to be discussed, Bamberg said. "We definitely need to overhaul the rapid-response system."
Bamberg declined to share the source of the video, saying identifying the inmate who shot the video would put his life in danger. The State edited the video.