Lee prison, located in Bishopville, South Carolina is a maximum-security facility that houses approximately 1,600 inmates. It’s also where some of South Carolina’s most violent offenders call home.
In April of 2018, 7 inmates were killed, and 17 inmates injured in what is being termed a, “mass casualty incident” that lasted more than 7 hours.
The incident happened started in one dorm and snowballed into three different dorms and, according to the South Carolina Director, Bryan Stirling, the incident centered around contraband. According to reports, there were about 250 to 260 inmates in each dorm with only 44 officers working in the entire prison.
Officers waited for additional support from surrounding emergency responders for help before taking control of the first dorm, and then working their way through the prison to regain control of the other two dorms.
Why The Incident Started
There are differing reports as to what started the riots. Some people claim it was gang related, and that many cell lock doors were broken, even before the incident occurred. The broken doors allowed prisoners to roam freely.
Others believe the incident occurred because of money and territory between different factions of the prison.
An inmate reported, on the condition of anonymity, that, “It’s been over two hours, but no CO’s (correction officers) have responded to this unit, and no medical personnel have attempted to render any kind of aid. The COs never even attempted to render aid, nor quell the disturbance. They just sat in the control bubble, called the issue in, then sat on their collective asses.”
South Carolina Prison Violence
Violence is becoming a growing problem in South Carolina’s prisons, as well as prisons located in other states. A recent investigation by a South Carolina newspaper reporter, John Monk, found that the number of inmates killed in South Carolina prisons “more than doubled in 2-17 from the year before and quadrupled from two years ago.”
The Legal Implications of the Lee Prison Riot
Are the prison officials at Lee prison guilty of a Section 1983 civil rights violation? That’s a question for the courts, however, it’s possible.
While the Constitution, “does not mandate comfortable prisons” they do have certain responsibilities to the inmates they house. One of those responsibilities is not to show deliberate indifference.
Deliberate indifference is difficult to prove, but in court, you must be able to show that the prison officials knew prisoners were at risk of harm and did not respond in a reasonable manner.
Because one of the inmates reported that the correction officers were just sitting in the control bubble when the riot broke out, could open the prison up to a Section 1983 lawsuit.
In order to show deliberate indifference, you must be able to prove that the prison officials knew about the risk by showing that you informed them, or that the risk was so blatantly obvious that the prison officials must have known about it.
In the case of the Lee prison riot, one could argue that it appears that the correction officers were very aware of the riot and didn’t act in a timely manner to stop it. It could also be argued that because some of the cell lock doors were broken before the riot even started, that it should have been obvious to prison officials that a risk of harm to other inmates was present.
South Carolina attorney, Chase Harbin encourages anyone who believes their Constitutional rights have been violated while in prison should seek the assistance of a qualified attorney to help you or your loved one investigate the case, to see if your Constitutional rights have been violated.