BISHOPVILLE, SC (WCSC/WIS) - The National Action Network is calling for the warden of the Lee Correctional Institution to step down after seven inmates were killed and another 17 injured after fights which lasted hours from Sunday night into Monday morning.
"The burden of this lies at the feet of the warden and the state of South Carolina," Elder James Johnson said. "For more than two hours, the warden allowed the inmates to kill and assault each other."
"We are asking the FBI to conduct a full investigation," Johnson said. "The National Action Network is asking the warden to step down until the investigation is complete."
The Lee County prison was the site Sunday night of what prison leaders called a "mass casualty event" that ended with seven inmates dead and another 17 injured.
SC Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said Monday the preliminary investigation points to the cause of the incident as "gangs fighting over territory."
"These folks are fighting over real money and real territory while they are incarcerated,"he said. He also said he believes inmates used cellphones they are not supposed to have in prison to help spread the word of an incident in the first dorm which then caused additional fights in two other dorms.
The inmates killed ranged in age from 24 to 44. All but one of the inmates who died has a prison record that shows they were punished at some point for possessing or trying to possess a cell phone while in prison.
Stirling said state officials have been asking the Federal Communications Commission for the power to block cell phone signals in prisons. Until that's done, he says, inmates will continue their criminal ways behind bars.
Pastor Thomas Dixon pointed the finger at the weapons, not the cell phones which caused the issue.
"They are in prison because they've been judged as so dangerous they must be kept there," Gov. Henry McMaster said at a news conference on Monday. "Jamming cell phones would go a long way. We want to see it changed and changed as soon as possible."
Of the seven fatalities, four of the inmates had ties to the Lowcountry.
The Department of Corrections released the names of the inmates who were killed:
- Eddie Gaskins, 32, who was serving 10 years for first-degree criminal domestic violence.
- Joshua Jenkins, 33, who was serving 15 years for voluntary manslaughter.
- Corneilus McClary, 33, who was serving 25 years for first-degree burglary.
- Michael Milledge, 44, who was serving 25 years for trafficking crack cocaine.
- Damonte Rivera, 24, who was serving life without parole for murder.
- Corey Scott, 36, who was serving 22 years for kidnapping and armed robbery.
- Raymond Scott, 28, who was serving 20 years for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
Four of those inmates had ties to the Lowcountry. Rivera is from Georgetown, Jenkins hails from Orangeburg and Berkeley Counties while Gaskins had roots in Berkeley County and McClary came from Williamsburg County.
"People in this prison, many have violent records," McMaster said. "We can't expect them to give up their violent ways when they go to prison. We try to minimize bad things from happening and learn from them."