Crime & Courts

Before 7 died in riot, SC prison guards took bribes to ignore violence, suit says

File photo
File photo

A new lawsuit filed against the S.C. Department of Corrections in the wake of the Lee Correctional Institution riot points towards the possibility officials knew guards were smuggling illegal items into dorms and committing crimes on behalf of inmates.

Department of Corrections officials long pointed to the cause of the riot being prison contraband, and the new suit — filed by inmate Javon Rivers — points to court documents in which a former guard pleaded the Fifth to accusations of illegal activity and smuggling.

The Fifth Amendment protects against self incrimination.

It's unclear what court case or deposition the attached testimony came from, but in Feb. 2017, former Lee correctional officer Shantara Clinise Wilson was charged with furnishing or attempt to furnish a prisoner with contraband.

In the attached document, Wilson was asked, "Did inmates ever pay you to not be around whenever they were carrying out certain illegal activities?"

Wilson pleaded the Fifth. She also used her constitutional right after questions about any higher up officials knowing about her allegedly involvement in illegal activities.

Rivers' lawsuit points to that case to claim officials in the S.C. Department of Corrections understood the breadth of the issue in their prison.

"In light of this, and the fact that no meaningful changes were made by the Defendant, despite the knowledge of these massive supervision, training and retention problems, a violent and bloody catastrophe like the riot that occurred on April 15, 2018 was inevitable," the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit goes on to detail the violence occuring inside of the prison, which houses South Carolina's most dangerous inmates.

Rivers, 36, said he was in the F3 dorm of the prison at about 7 p.m. when he saw 15 to 20 prisoners begin to fight, according to the lawsuit. He tried to run, but ultimately was caught and stabbed twice with a knife and hit with a home-made axe.

Still able to walk, Rivers dragged wounded inmates to a door and tried to get the attention of a correctional officer on the other side. The guard ignored him, according to the suit.

Rivers ended up jumping over a fence to escape more attackers, subsequently breaking his leg, according to the suit. Another inmate hid him in a laundry basket and rolled him to a group of about 20 guards.

All told, seven men died in the riot, and 22 more were injured.

Rivers was incarcerated in 2008 for murder, gun charges and possession of crack cocaine. He was transferred to Lee Correctional at the end of January.