CBSN

South Carolina prison riot: Video allegedly from inmate shows another inmate holding blade

BISHOPVILLE, S.C. -- In disturbing video obtained by CBS News, an inmate can be seen carrying a large blade amid a violent prison riot Sunday and Monday that left seven dead at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina. Seventeen more inmates were injured in the melee that is now being called the worst U.S. prison riot in 25 years.

The video, apparently taken on a cell phone from inside the prison, was provided by an inmate to Justin Bamberg, an attorney and South Carolina state representative. CBS News has not been able to independently verify the video.

In the footage, another inmate is seen sitting against a wall and then walking away, leaving a large smear of blood on the wall. His clothes appear to be covered in blood.

The first fight started in a dorm about 7:15 p.m. Sunday and appeared to be contained before suddenly starting in two other dorms. The prison was finally secured around 2:55 a.m. Monday, the corrections department told CBS affiliate WLTX. Most of the slain were stabbed or slashed; the remainder appeared to have been beaten, Lee County Coroner Larry Logan said.  

Officials are being criticized for their response to the riot. A prisoner who spoke with the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity said he said he saw bodies "literally stacked on top of each other, like some macabre woodpile." He said it was hours before guards entered the dorm to help the wounded and dying.

"The COs (corrections officers) never even attempted to render aid, nor quell the disturbance," he said. "They just sat in the control bubble, called the issue in, then sat on their collective asses."

The prisoner told the Associated Press he saw several attackers taunt a rival gang member who was badly injured and later died. He said he believed the inmate would have had "a fighting chance if someone had simply opened the gate and let the others carry him up front."

Prison Riot

These undated photos provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows, from top row from left, Corey Scott, Eddie Casey Gaskins, Raymond Angelo Scott and Damonte Rivera; bottom row from left, Michael Milledge, Cornelius McClary and Joshua Jenkins. The seven inmates were killed, and at least 17 prisoners wounded, in a riot at the Lee Correctional Institution on early Monday, April 16, 2018, in Bishopville, S.C. 

South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP

"At one point, you had these guys who were stabbed, who were outside kind of in a pile-- but they were still alive," Bamberg told Crimesider.  "But because the guards wouldn't come in, they also wouldn't open any of the gates to let people out. So these guys who according to some people's perceptions could have maybe survived had they gotten medical treatment-- didn't get any, and therefore they died. "

Corrections officials say guards followed procedure by backing out of the dorms and awaiting backup response. In a press conference Monday afternoon, South Carolina corrections department director Bryan Stirling said the response teams entered as fast as they could.

"We gathered as many people as we could, as quickly as we could and went in as soon as we thought it was safe for our staff," he said.

Stirling said the riot was "all about territory, all about contraband" and cell phones at the prison, which houses some of the state's worst and longest-serving offenders. Stirling said gangs were fighting over territory and said cellphones help them continue criminal activity behind bars.

Stirling urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  to change a law and allow state institutions like his to block prisoners' cell signals. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters that jamming signals from contraband cellphones - already banned in prison but smuggled in by the thousands - would "go a long way" in preventing future violence in prison.

Bamberg accused the state of "whining about the FCC" and showing poor leadership in response to the riot.

"You do not just 'end up' with seven inmates butchered, and another couple of dozen hauled off to the hospital," Bamberg said. "That's not supposed to just happen."