South Carolina’s Lee Correctional Institution is facing additional lawsuits stemming from an April riot which left seven dead and another seventeen injured.
Four lawsuits, described by The State, provide a first-hand account of the riot’s violence. Each of the inmates behind the separate claims were stabbed by gang members—all while correctional officers waited outside the facility for backup.
Among the plaintiffs is Daman Strickland, who was transferred to Lee Correctional Institution just two weeks before the riots began. Strickland, writes The State, was speaking to another inmate—Eddie Gaskins—when they saw fighting break out in a nearby dormitory.
Trying to escape the violence, Gaskins and Strickland retreated to a cell and tried closing the door.
When the locking mechanism failed, Gaskins, Strickland and another prisoner barricaded the door. For a while, the trio were able to keep rioting gang members at bay. But as violence continued to rage throughout the complex, their situation became ever-more dangerous.
A group of armed prisoners allegedly broke a glass panel on the cell door before tossing an object containing pepper spray or mace into the unit. The diversion was enough to give the gang members time to run down the barricade. Upon entering the cell, recounts The State, all three inmates were stabbed—Gaskins was later identified as among the seven dead.
Lee Correctional officials admitted in the aftermath that the facility was full of faulty locks—locks which could have saved the men’s lives.
Nicholas Smith, who was transferred to Lee in March, claims to have escaped the riot in its initial stages. Trying to find safe ground, he purportedly pleaded with a group of corrections officers, only to be denied any assistance.
Smith was found by gang members and stabbed fifteen times.
Wounded and bleeding, Smith tried again to ask law enforcement for help. But instead of receiving any, he says an officer sprayed mace in his eyes and told him to stand back.
Smith was found by rioters again, who stabbed him in the ‘head, arm, hand, neck, and back.’
Somehow, the man managed to survive.
Two other men—both of whom claim they were either trying to warn friends or escape the area—were left abandoned by corrections officers as groups of up to 40 gang members marauded through the facility, using knives, axes and homemade tools to torture and kill their fellow inmates.
The four lawsuits, each filed separately, join at least three other complaints brought by Lee inmates who survived the April riots.
Randy Mast, who was told by a gang member that he was “going to die that day,” blames the massacre and beatings on under-staffing. Mast’s suit says the prison system “failed to provide an adequate number of properly trained security officers throughout the facility.”
Officials, say Mast, should have known that “their failure to provide adequate security officers and measures would result in unsafe conditions for the inmate population.”