Crime & Courts

Four inmates found dead in state prison

(From the left) John Tely King, Jason Howard Kelley, Jimmy Ham and William Bradley Scruggs were found dead inside a dorm on Friday at Kirland Correctional Institution.
(From the left) John Tely King, Jason Howard Kelley, Jimmy Ham and William Bradley Scruggs were found dead inside a dorm on Friday at Kirland Correctional Institution.

Four inmates were found dead on Friday in a dorm at one of the state’s prisons.

The men were being held at Kirkland Correctional Institution in Richland County and were found in a housing unit at 10:35 a.m., said Sommer Sharpe, spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Corrections.

Little information was being released Friday. But Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said he did not think the deaths would be ruled as being from natural causes.

Sharpe identified the men as John King, 52; Jason Kelley, 35; Jimmy Ham, 56; and William Scruggs, 44. The cause of their deaths remained unknown late Friday.

King had been serving time since 1998 for charges in Greenville County involving two counts of burglary, breaking into a motor vehicle, two vehicle thefts and several larcenies. He had no disciplinary charges filed against him and was set to be released in 2020.

Kelley was serving an aggravated assault and battery charge in Cherokee County. The Gaffney Ledger reported in 2013 during his plea hearing that Kelley was initially charged with attempted murder for stabbing his 13-year-old stepson, but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge.

Ham, who was set to be released later this year, had served since 2008 for charges of aggravated assault and battery, grand larceny and two counts of burglary in Darlington County.

Scruggs was serving a life sentence for the abduction and shooting death of a disabled veteran in Anderson County, according to the Associated Press.

SLED agents will lead the investigation into the prisoners’ deaths, assisted by Watts’ office and the corrections department’s police services division, Sharpe said.

Kirkland Correctional Institution is one of the state’s high-security facilities. It includes a maximum security unit, where the most dangerous and violent prisoners are housed. Kirkland is part of the Broad River Complex off Broad River Road in the Harbison area.

There have been previous incidents of violence reported at Kirkland. In 2015, the death of an inmate was attributed to blunt force trauma not due to a fall. There also was an incident in which two inmates took two nurses as hostages with homemade knives, after they forced themselves into a nurse station.

In 2016, the agency announced three of its former officers were facing attempted murder charges for allegedly stabbing an inmate who was handcuffed in his cell. A corrections officer also was fired the same year for allegedly hitting a handcuffed inmate in the face.

Cynthia Roldán: 803-295-0435, @CynthiaRoldan

About Kirkland Correctional Institution:

  • About 15,000 offenders are received yearly for classification and assignments.
  • One of the state’s high-security prisons for men
  • Includes the state’s maximum security unit, for most dangerous and violent prisoners
  • Also houses, separately, inmates who want to harm themselves
  • Opened in 1975
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