Crime & Courts

He asked SC prison officers for help during deadly riot. They maced him, suit says

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.

A litany of lawsuits filed against the S.C. Department of Corrections Friday in the wake of a deadly riot at Lee Correctional seem to all say the same thing: the state prisons are understaffed, unsafe and poorly maintained.

The personal injury lawsuits document the violent night from the perspective of four inmates, all stabbed multiple times by members of gangs, they said, while correctional officers waited outside for backup.

Daman Strickland, who was transferred to Lee less than two weeks before the riot, said he was in the common area of the F-3 unit when he saw fighting break out in the dorm, according to his lawsuit. He was speaking to Eddie Gaskins -- an inmate who was later named as one of the seven who died -- and the two decided to barricade themselves in his cell.

All lawsuits filed against the Department of Corrections in the wake of Lee allege locks on cell doors didn't work, something officials admitted was true.

For a while, Gaskins, Strickland and another inmate were able to fight off rioting gang members, but one managed to break the glass window on the cell, according to the lawsuit. Strickland said rioters threw something like mace or pepper spray into the cell.

When the armed prisoners forced their way into the cell, they stabbed Gaskins, Stickland and another inmate. Strickland laid on the floor bleeding until another prisoner offered to take him across the dorm to safety, according to the lawsuit.

On the way, he was attacked again, stabbed in the head, neck, arm, hand and side until he lost consciousness. With a collapsed lung and broken teeth, he waited until medical arrived and transferred him to an area hospital.

Strickland was incarcerated on drug and theft related charges.

Correctional officers at Lee Correctional Institution make up to $1,600 less than the national average. Their low pay is tied to high turnover and a high number of vacancies at the institution and throughout South Carolina Department of Corrections.

Nicholas Smith, who came to reside at Lee in March 2018, said he managed to escape being jumped initially, but after being denied help from correctional officers, was stabbed 15 times, according to his lawsuit.

Smith made his way to a back door, where he saw officers trying to take a wounded inmate to safety, according to his lawsuit. He asked for help and to be taken to the medical ward, but the officers sprayed mace in his eyes to get him to back away.

Later, Smith was attacked again and stabbed in the head, arm, hand, neck and back.

Smith was incarcerated on drug and theft charges.

Rashwan Carter, transferred to Lee days before the deadly riot, was told to vacate the area, and when he did, he was jumped by several violent inmates, according to his lawsuit.

He suffered wounds to his head, shoulder, arms and hand, according to the suit. He was also hit in the leg with an axe-like weapon. As he laid on the floor bleeding and unconscious, the inmates around him died, he said. It's unclear which of the seven dead he was with.

Carter was in prison on burglary, possession of a gun by a felon, armed robbery and kidnapping charges.

Anthony Fraser, who had been in Lee since October 2017, said he heard armed say they were going to attack his friend, according to his lawsuit.

When he followed them to warn a friend, he encountered 20 to 30 armed inmates, according to his lawsuit. When he tried to pass them, they stabbed him multiple times.

Fraser claimed the single correctional officer guarding the unit was on the floor crying in the sally-port while the confrontation happened.

Fraser is serving time time for voluntary manslaughter, burglary and armed robbery.

A fifth lawsuit Friday detailed violent incidents occurring a month before the Lee riot.

Chancellor Montgomery's lawsuit said he was leaving breakfast March 15 when he was jumped by two armed, masked inmates. He called out for help to the two guards that stood nearby, but neither came to his aid as another inmate joined the fight, he said.

Montgomery was stabbed multiple times and suffered a collapsed lung.

He was serving time for drug trafficking.

The suits join two others filed earlier this week, one by a prisoner stabbed during the Lee riot and one from the family of one of the deceased prisoners.

SCDC director Bryan Sterling describes in a press conference, what happened at Lee Correctional Institute resulting in the death of seven inmates and left 17 injured.

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