Crime & Courts

SC prison guards didn’t help inmate dying in front of them, video shows

More than a year after a 32-year-old man was killed inside a South Carolina prison, his family’s lawyer released video showing the man’s slow death as he waited for medical attention.

Allen Jerome Capers was stabbed multiple times after fights broke out at Turbeville Correctional Institution on Dec. 31, 2017. Correctional officers allegedly took him outside of the dorm and laid him on the ground, according to a lawsuit filed against the Department of Corrections by Capers’ family.

Videos show Capers writhing on the ground outside the facility as correctional officers walked around the area. After about a half hour, several inmates showed up with a gurney and wheeled him away to an infirmary, where he was later pronounced dead.

The surveillance videos were provided to members of the media by the law firm of state Rep. Justin Bamberg, who is representing Capers’ family in its lawsuit against the department. The law firm obtained the video as it collected evidence for the lawsuit.

The incident “underscores the need for immediate reform of the prison system in South Carolina and additional funding for SCDC,” Bamberg said in a statement.

“That video really encompasses all the problems that face SCDC on one screen,” Bamberg said.

Capers was the only one killed in the December 2017 incident, though eight others were injured. According to the Capers family’s lawsuit, multiple inmates got keys to unlock cell doors, which they used to get access to Capers.

Capers was stabbed in the head, neck, stomach and hand, according to the lawsuit.

In response to the release of the video, Department of Corrections officials called for more funding for security improvements and better pay for officers, spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said in a statement.

“The fact remains that staff didn’t render aid in this case. That’s wrong,” Shain said in a statement. “Director Bryan Stirling is committed to getting to the truth and holding people accountable for the lack of action.”

The Department of Corrections has struggled in recent years to deal with an influx of violence. In 2017, South Carolina’s prisons had triple the amount of serious assaults than it did in 2015. During that period, homicides also quadrupled.

The State spent 10 months investigating the state’s prison system and revealed a violent culture that is largely fueled by chronic understaffing and fights over contraband. To fight the growing violence, department officials have championed programs to keep inmates occupied and installed contraband stopping measures across the state.

Bamberg said he hopes Capers’ case can help the cause of reform.

“A lot of people have heard some of what does on at SCDC, but not everyone has seen what goes on at SCDC,” the state representative said. “...We don’t need a court to tell us that these people’s constitutional rights are being trampled on.”

Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.