Nearly eight hours of inmates fighting at Lee Correctional Institution overnight Sunday ended in the deaths of seven inmates and 17 injuries, officials say.
The maximum-security prison in Bishopville was secured at 2:55 a.m. Monday following an incident that started at 7:15 p.m., said Jeff Taillon, communications director for the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC).
“The incident involved multiple inmate-on-inmate altercations in three housing units,” he said.
The 17 inmates who were injured required outside medical attention, Taillon said.
Most of the slain inmates were stabbed with homemade knives or slashed, while the remainder appeared to have been beaten, Lee County Coroner Larry Logan told The Associated Press on Monday.
"How else are you going to die in prison? They don't have guns," Logan said by phone as he went to a Florence hospital to finish identifying the dead.
The seven fatalities were confirmed by the SCDC on Twitter as Raymond Angelo Scott, Michael Milledge, Damonte Marquez Rivera, Eddie Casey Jay Gaskins, Joshua Svwin Jenkins, Corey Scott and Cornelius Quantral McClary.
Raymond Scott, 28, had been serving since September 2016 for firearms and aggravated assault and battery charges. He was projected to be released in 2035, according to SCDC inmate records.
Milledge, 44, was projected to be released in 2032 after serving since 2010 on assault and battery, drug and firearm charges, including a 25-year sentence for trafficking cocaine. His inmate file shows he attempted to escape in 2016, where he was incarcerated in Broad River.
Rivera, 24, was serving a life sentence for murder and 30-year sentences for armed robbery, burglary and kidnapping. He began his sentence in 2015, according to his inmate file.
Gaskins, 32, was projected to be released in 2022 for a domestic violence charge. Of the seven men killed, he was the only inmate who did not have any disciplinaries on his record while incarcerated, according to his file.
Jenkins, 33, was serving time since 2015 for attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter and burglary and was projected to be released in 2024.
Corey Scott, 38, has been incarcerated since 2002 on assault and battery, criminal conspiracy, carjacking with bodily injury, kidnapping and armed robbery charges. He was projected to be released in 2022.
McClary, 33, was projected to be released in 2032 and had been serving since 2011 for assault and battery, firearms, burglary and criminal conspiracy charges.
At least 20 inmates have been killed by fellow prisoners in South Carolina since the start of 2017, The Associated Press reported.
“All SCDC staff and responding law enforcement officers are safe and accounted for,” he said. “SCDC Police Services and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) are investigating.”
Lee County EMS responded to the scene, too.
The coroner said when he arrived it was a chaotic scene of fighting everywhere. Logan said Lee Correctional Institution, like most other South Carolina prisons, is struggling to find enough workers, but he doesn't believe anything could be done once things got that far out of control.
"If everybody has an uprising, you are always going to be understaffed," Logan said.
The maximum-security facility in Bishopville houses about 1,500 inmates, some of South Carolina's most violent and longest-serving offenders. Two officers were stabbed there in a 2015 fight.
The deaths at Lee are the most in any South Carolina prison in recent years. Four inmates were killed by a pair of prisoners in the state's Kirkland Correctional Institution last year.
It is the latest violence in a system where 12 inmates were killed by other prisoners last year and 250 prisoners were assaulted so severely in 2016 and 2017 they had to be treated in outside hospitals, according to public records obtained by Steve Bailey, who writes columns for The Post and Courier of Charleston.
The 250 inmates taken to the hospital after assaults the past two years were nearly double the rate from the two years before, the newspaper reported.
At the prison where the seven were killed, one inmate held a guard hostage for 90 minutes in March and another killed a fellow prisoner in February.
Gov. Henry McMaster, meanwhile, expressed support for state prisons chief Bryan Stirling.
McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes told The Associated Press that the governor has "complete confidence" in Stirling's ability to lead the state Department of Corrections.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This remains a developing story. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.
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