COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dozens of prisoners have been charged in a fatal prison riot in South Carolina that left seven inmates dead, one of the worst incidents of prison violence in the state's history.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, flanked by South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling and other state officials and prosecutors, made the announcement Thursday at a joint news conference.
The riot happened back on April 15, 2018 at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville but this is the first time criminal charges have been filed in the case. Wilson said the investigation has been going ever since the crime happened.
In addition to the seven inmates who were killed, 22 others were hurt. It was the worst riot in a U.S. prison in a quarter century, with the fighting lasting over seven hours, spreading into three housing units. No guards were seriously hurt.
The state grand jury indictments are against more than 29 individuals believed to have been involved in the riot. The men were charged with 79 different criminal counts ranging from murder to criminal conspiracy and assault.
Wilson said the indictments were unsealed earlier this week.
The seven inmates killed were Eddie Casey Jay Gaskins, Joshua Svwin Jenkins, Cornelius Quantral McClary, Michael Milledge, Damonte Marquez Rivera, Raymond Angelo Scott, and Corey Scott.
According to Wilson, the problems centered around two prison gangs in different wings of the complex and the selling of illegal contraband.
"Back in the old days, there was commerce by gangs and inmates within the prison system," Wilson said. "But the ability for them to have contraband cell phones had allowed that commerce, that elicit commerce to grow. And that commerce has created turf wars between gangs that were already in prison. There were always been gangs in prison, there's always been commerce, but now the stakes are bigger. Those contraband cell phones, just like in the previous grand jury cases, are very complex."
An inmate at the scene told the Associated Press in 2018 that bodies were "literally stacked on top of each other." Lee County Coroner Larry Logan said it appeared most of the deaths were a result of stabbing or slashing. Some victims may have been beaten to death..
Stirling said last year his agency made improvements at Lee Correctional Institution and other facilities to make them more secure. That included netting, additional staffing, body scanners, and other improvements.