COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - An hourslong bloody prison riot left seven inmates dead and 17 others seriously injured Monday before authorities regained control at the maximum-security facility with a history of violence.
Most of the dead were stabbed or slashed with homemade knives during more than seven hours of chaos, while others were beaten, officials told The Associated Press. Authorities said all the dead were killed by their fellow prisoners.
An inmate who witnessed a riot inside a South Carolina prison says he saw bodies stacking up on each other and correctional officers didn’t do anything to stop the violence or check on the injured.
The prisoner who saw the riot exchanged messages with AP on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to have a cellphone and fears retribution from other inmates.
He says most of the inmates are affiliated with gangs and several attackers taunted a rival gang member who was hurt.
"How else are you going to die in prison? They don't have guns," Logan told The Associated Press by phone as he went to a Florence hospital to finish identifying the dead. Autopsies should confirm their causes of death, Lee County Coroner Larry Logan said.
Inmates fought for more than seven hours before authorities regained control early Monday at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, according to state prisons spokesman Jeff Taillon. He said no officers were hurt in the melee.
At least 20 inmates have been killed by fellow prisoners in South Carolina since the start of 2017.
Taillon said the 17 inmates who were injured required medical attention outside the prison, which is located 40 miles east of Columbia.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections tweeted that the deaths happened in multiple inmate-on-inmate fights in three housing units. It was unclear what sparked the violence, which began at around 7:15 p.m. Sunday.
Lee County Fire/Rescue said ambulances from multiple jurisdictions lined up outside to tend to the wounded.
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 is at near full capacity, housing 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.
The inmates who were killed during an incident at Lee Correctional Institution have been identified as Raymond Angelo Scott, Michael Milledge, Damonte Marquez Rivera, Eddie Casey Jay Gaskins, Joshua Svwin Jenkins, Corey Scott, Cornelius Quantral McClary.
Corey Scott was serving time for crimes out of Florence County including armed robbery, kidnapping, carjacking and assault and battery. He was transferred to Lee County in November 2017.
Cornelius Quantral McClary was serving time for crimes out of Williamsburg County including assault and battery, burglary, and a weapons conviction. He was transferred to Lee County in October 2017.
Damonte Marquez Rivera was serving time for crimes out of Georgetown County including murder, armed robbery, burglary, and kidnapping. He was transferred to Lee County in November 2017.
Eddie Casey Jay Gaskins was serving time for a domestic violence conviction out of Berkeley County. He was transferred to Lee County three days before the riot.
Joshua Svwin Jenkins was serving time for crimes out of Orangeburg and Berkeley Counties including attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, and burglary. He was transferred to Lee County in January 2016.
Michael Milledge was serving time for crimes out of Greenville and Marlboro Counties including assault and battery, and drug and gun convictions. He was transferred to Lee County in November 2017.
Raymond Angelo Scott was serving time for crimes out of Sumter County including assault and battery and gun convictions. He was transferred to Lee County in October 2017.
Officials have not commented on the condition of the 17 injured inmates. It is unclear what originally sparked the fights.
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.
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