Crime & Courts

In month after deadly prison riot, the fallout at Lee Correctional builds

Watch inmates pace the prison floor with shanks during deadly SC riot

Cellphone video captures inmates holding shanks on a blood-covered prison floor during the violent riot that left seven inmates dead inside Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, SC on Monday, April 16.
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Cellphone video captures inmates holding shanks on a blood-covered prison floor during the violent riot that left seven inmates dead inside Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, SC on Monday, April 16.

As the one month mark for a deadly prison riot that killed seven at Lee Correctional Institution passes, the prison and the department that oversees it faces reforms and legal actions.

After the incident at Lee Correctional was quelled in the early morning hours April 16, lawmakers and inmates have scrambled to find out what happened and make changes to the current system.

From proposing jamming cell phones to suing over prison conditions, here's what's happened at Lee Correctional since the riot:

April 15 At about 7:15 p.m., a fight broke out in a Lee Correctional Institution dorm which houses 250 to 260 inmates. Officers in the unit exited the dorm and called for response teams around the state to help quell the incident. Director of the Department of Corrections Bryan Stirling said four officers were staffing the dorm, but inmates in later lawsuits claimed fewer were present.

At about 8:30 p.m., fights break out in two other dorms. Half an hour later, backup around the state is activated, and SLED arrives at about 9:30 p.m. First responders take back the first dorm at 11:30 p.m.

April 16, early morning Officers retake the second dorm at about 12:30 a.m. and the third at about 2 a.m. The entire prison was declared secure at about 3 a.m., according to the Department of Corrections. EMS personnel worked the scene until about 5 a.m., tending to the 22 wounded. Seven inmates are dead.

April 16, afternoon S.C. officials said at a press conference the riot was a gang-inspired incident over territory, blaming inmate cell phones for the violence. Prisoners in the first dorm used cellphones to alert others in the second and third dorm about the fights, Stirling said. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster called for the Federal Communications Commission to allow blocking of cell phone signals in prisons.

April 23 After revelations of low staffing and broken locks on prison doors come out, McMaster gave the Department of Corrections the OK to spend more money on hiring and training new guards. The executive order gave authorization to bump up the pay of some officers and fill some of the 627 vacant positions throughout the system. The order also sped up the purchasing process so prisons could invest in nets to keep contraband out.

April 25 In a further crack down against contraband, 14 former Department of Corrections employees were indicted on charges of taking bribes to smuggle contraband -- including cellphones and drugs -- into state prisons.

"The S.C. Department of Corrections is facing a crisis in contraband," U.S. Attorney Beth Drake said at a news conference.

The federal charges stemmed from state cases filed from 2015 to 2017.

April 26The State reported a Maryland-based company, Tecore Networks, will install technology at Lee to stop unauthorized devices from making calls, sending texts or connecting to the internet. The system was expected to be fully operational by the end of May.

May 8 Two Lee inmate stabbed during the riot in Lee filed separate lawsuits against the Department of Corrections for negligence. Robert Jackson, 30, said two masked inmates burst into his cell and stabbed him. Afterward, he said no one came to his aide for hours. Jadarius Roberts, 21, shared a similar story, saying he was stabbed at least 20 times.

May 10 Stirling told a legislative panel the prison system needed to fill well over the 627 open positions at the Department of Corrections. Though he called for 1,000 officers, he said the prison system could only afford about 285 new employees.

May 11 A Lee correctional officer was arrested and charged with excessive use of force. Antonio Lavar Burns was charged with third-degree assault and battery after he allegedly stomped on a handcuffed inmate's abdomen. The case was unrelated to the riot.

May 14 Another inmate, stabbed 8 times during the riot, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections. In the suit, Reakwon Watson, 21, said he was "forced to bleed and suffer for several hours" before getting medical attention. He also called out Lee for understaffing and allegedly knowing prisoners were armed and doing nothing about it.

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