Illegal cellphones are largely to blame for a prison gang riot that left seven inmates dead and 17 injured in a South Carolina facility on Sunday.
What started as a chaotic brawl led to a full-fledged riot that spread to three housing units. The riot, which began at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, lasted for approximately seven and a half hours, breaking into early Monday morning. Officials blame illegal cellphones lobbed over the prison fences or smuggled through security for allowing gangs to conduct business inside the facility and ignite the riot. Contraband cellphones have been a pervasive problem in South Carolina prisons, with some inmates using them to order hits on prison guards.
“What we believe is that this was all about territory, this was about contraband, this was about cellphones,” Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said at a Monday press conference. “These folks are fighting over real money and real territory while they’re incarcerated.”
The cellphone problem is so pervasive that one inmate used an illegal phone to offer comments via text messaging to the Associated Press, saying bodies were “literally stacked on top of each other.”
The fight lasted from 7:15 p.m. Sunday to nearly 3 a.m. Monday. Many of the injured and killed inmates were slashed, stabbed or beaten to death, according to the Lee County Coroner Larry Logan, who also mentioned the use of shanks in the riot. Lee County Fire and Rescue classified the riot as a “mass casualty” incident.
While no correctional officers were injured, this is not the first-time violence has struck the Bishopville, South Carolina prison. Just weeks earlier, inmates attacked a guard, holding him hostage, and a month prior another stabbing took place. The facility is one of the state’s highest-security prisons–a level three facility–holding some of the most dangerous prisoners of South Carolina.
Inmates began the riot as they were returning to their cells to be counted, and corrections officers delayed interfering until sufficient back-up had arrived. There were 44 officers on duty at the time of the riot and they eventually took back the rogue dormitory “with force.”
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