Inmates tear gassed after S.C. prison fight

The 1,750-inmate maximum security prison at Lee Correctional Institution was on lockdown Saturday night after a fight broke out among some 60 prisoners in a common area in one of the prison dormitories.

Officers dropped cannisters of tear gas through an opening to the dormitory to quell the disturbance.

A rapid response team that entered the dormitory shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday after the tear gas had cleared found several inmates with minor injuries - "the kind you would expect from a fight," said Corrections spokesman Josh Gelinas.

Prisoners put up no resistance, he said.

The prison will remain on lockdown for the immediate future. Lockdown means all inmates are confined to their cells; food is brought to them.

The incident started about 4:30 p.m. when two officers were entering a wing of the Chesterfield Dormitory. That section houses about 120 inmates.

A fight broke out among some inmates, and the officers retreated, locking the door behind them.

"The officers quickly realized they were not going to be able to quell the disturbance," Gelinas said.

The fighting continued for about 20 minutes until around 5 p.m., when officers dropped the tear gas cannisters into the dormitory The gas, which stings the eyes and skin, quelled the disturbance in short order, said Gelinas.

Prisoners who needed medical attention received it, Gelinas said.

There were no hostages and no prison staff injured in the incident, he said.

Gelinas said prison officials don't know yet the cause of the fighting.

"We will be getting to that in the next couple of days," he said.

Lee has been the scene of several incidents over the years.

In May 2008, officers used tear gas to quash a disturbance after dozens of inmates refused to return to their cells after dinner.

Last December, three inmates attacked a guard, and four other officers were injured while trying to break up the fight.

In 2003, a group of prisoners armed with homemade knives took over a wing and held two guards hostage for several hours. In 1999, two inmates held two hostages for about 13 hours before releasing them unharmed.

Lee is located off I-20, just south of Bishopville, about 50 miles east of Columbia.