Seven inmates are dead and 17 hurt after a gang dispute sparked the deadliest US prison riot in 25 years.
The bloodshed continued for eight hours as a series of fights spread through three dorms at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina.
“This was all about territory. This was about contraband, this was about cellphones,” Bryan Stirling, director of the state Department of Corrections, told a news conference.
“These folks are fighting over real money and real territory while they are incarcerated.”
It was the deadliest U.S. prison riot since 1993, when nine inmates and one corrections officer died at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.
All seven deaths were the result of stabbing injuries, said Lee County Coroner Larry Logan.
Forty-four guards were on duty at the 1,583-inmate prison when violence erupted Sunday evening.
Prison staff called in reinforcements and did not move into the first unit until four hours after the fighting began, a delay that he said was necessary to ensure the guards’ safety.
For months, South Carolina officials have said that prisoners used smuggled cellphones to manage crimes outside the prisons.
Governor Henry McMaster on Monday said he would renew his request to federal officials to allow him to block cell signals on prison property.
Video taken by inmates with smuggled phones later emerged that depicted trails of blood and dead bodies in the prison.
The state has about 5,000 prison employees in 22 institutions, but “security staff numbers continue to lag behind the authorized strength,” the department’s fiscal 2017 Accountability Report said, without giving numbers.
Martin said staff shortages could have been a contributing factor in the riot.
“When high-security inmates start engaging each other and there aren’t enough staff, it’s hard to stop it,” Martin said in a phone interview.
State officials identified the dead inmates as Raymond Scott, 28, who was serving a 20-year sentence for crimes including assault and battery; Michael Milledge, 44, serving 25 years for drug trafficking; Damonte Rivera, 24, serving life for murder; Eddie Gaskins, 32, serving 10 years for domestic violence; Joshua Jenkins, 33, serving 15 years for manslaughter; Corey Scott, 38, serving 22 years for kidnapping; and Cornelius McClary, 33, serving 25 years for burglary.
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