Twenty-nine people were indicted on a wide range of charges stemming from a deadly prison riot that took place two-and-a-half years ago in Lee county, South Carolina. The riot – the deadliest outbreak of prison violence on American soil in a quarter century – left seven inmates dead and another seventeen wounded.
As we reported at the time, the riot took place at Lee Correctional Institution, a level-three (maximum security) prison located in Bishopville, S.C. and operated by the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC).
The deadly violence reportedly began when rival gangs within the prison initiated a turf war after several inmates were transferred to the facility from McCormick Correctional Institution – a maximum security SCDC facility located in McCormick, S.C.
According to our sources, gang members known as “renegades” (owing to their refusal to follow orders from their leaders) initiated the bloody melee.
“Renegades” from three gangs – the Bloods, the Crips and the Gangsta Disciples (a.k.a. Folk Nation) – were allegedly involved in the riot, which began in the prison’s F1 pod at around 7:15 p.m. EDT on Sunday April 15, 2018. The violence quickly spilled over into two other pods at the prison, and SCDC officers were unable to regain control of the facility until approximately 3:00 a.m. EDT on Monday, April 16, 2018.
This week, S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson announced that sixty-two charges had been filed by the statewide grand jury against twenty-nine defendants in the aftermath of the violence.
Three of these defendants – Stephen J. Green (a.k.a. “Tank”), Ricardo Labruce Joseph (a.k.a. “Townhead”) and Danielle Lamar Peay (a.k.a. “P”) – are facing murder charges with possible sentences ranging from thirty years to life in prison in connection with their alleged involvement in the violence.
South Carolina has a death penalty, but as we noted in a post earlier this week it is currently not an option due to SCDC’s inability to procure the drugs necessary to carry out lethal injections.
In addition to the murder raps, Green, Joseph and Peay are facing first degree “assault and battery by mob” charges resulting in death – a crime which carries a sentence of “not less than thirty years” behind bars.
Also facing that charge are Michael Juan Smith (a.k.a. “Flame”), Andre T. Boone (a.k.a. “Fang”), Michael Antonio Williams (a.k.a. “Mikey”), Jerell Rashaun Jackson, Keon Duante Moore, Rico Hickman, Mike Smalls, Teron Hikeen Jackson (a.k.a. “2-5”), Shawn Roseberry Bisnauth, Torey Robert Blackwell (a.k.a. “Zay”), Jordan Russell Wall (a.k.a. “Chucky”), Richard Dewayne Lyles (a.k.a. “White Boy Lyles”), Joshua Phillips, Christopher Devaul Lovely (a.k.a. “P-90”) and Derrick Jerrod Rice (a.k.a. “9-0”).
Of those mentioned above, Wall, Lyles, Phillips, Lovely and Rice are each facing three counts of first degree assault and battery by mob.
Four defendants – including Peay – are facing second degree “assault and battery by mob” charges in which “serious bodily injury” resulted. The others charged with this crime are Harold Leon Junes III (a.k.a. “Red”), Jefferey Samuels and Kevin Tyrone Bryant (a.k.a. “KB”).
Twenty-four of the 29 defendants indicted by the grand jury were charged with carrying or concealing a weapon inside a South Carolina prison, while 21 of them were charged with criminal conspiracy.
As with anyone accused of committing any crime, all of the defendants in this case are considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system – or until such time as they may wish to enter a plea in connection with any of the charges they are facing.
According to a news release issued by the S.C. attorney general’s office, 25 of the 29 defendants were incarcerated by SCDC at the time the indictments were handed down. The four remaining defendants appeared at bond hearings on Wednesday December 2, 2020 in front of S.C. circuit court judge Alison Lee – one of the Palmetto State’s most notoriously lenient judges when it comes to letting violent criminals go free on bond.
Lee denied bond in two of the four cases she heard this week. Michael Juan Smith and Derrick Jerrod Rice had their bond denied, however Ricardo Labruce Joseph – who is staring down charges of murder, first degree assault and battery by mob, criminal conspiracy and possession of a concealed weapon in prison – was inexplicably granted a $125,000 surety bond.
“Has she lost her mind?” one lawmaker we spoke with wondered aloud, referring to Lee.
Granting bond to Joseph is inexcusable in light of the charges he is facing, but it is unfathomable considering his lengthy criminal record – which includes multiple firearm and domestic violence convictions. In fact, at the time of the riots Joseph was serving a ten-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to kidnapping, armed robbery and domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature.
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Make no mistake: This news outlet – which has repeatedly criticized Lee and other judges for jeopardizing public safety with their unwarranted leniency – will be revisiting this bond decision very soon.
In the meantime … what prompted the riots? And can anything be done moving forward to quell prison violence?
As we noted in our original coverage of the melee, gangs in South Carolina prisons do battle on a daily basis to secure possession of phones, drugs, cigarettes and “green dot cards” – or prepaid credit cards that serve as currency behind bars.
These battles are often tied to criminal activity that takes place outside of the prison system thanks to the use of cell phones behind bars.
State and federal officials have attempted to break up these criminal rings in recent years with some success (see here and here). But they are adamant in their contention that contraband cell phones are driving the violence – and that until they are allowed to crack down on these phones, nothing will change.
“Illegal cell phones in our prisons continue to drive and facilitate the contraband trade within the walls, and that contraband trade drives much of the violence within the institutions,” Wilson said in a statement. “Violence also spreads within the institutions because of contraband cell phones.”
SCDC director Bryan Stirling – who has argued for years in favor of jamming cell phone signals in prisons – echoed Wilson’s statement.
(Click to view)
“Illegal cell phones contribute to contraband and violence, and we need national legislation to allow us to stop these phones from working,” Stirling (above) said.
Why can’t South Carolina prisons jam cell phone signals? Because they are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – and as we noted in a story last fall, prepaid phones and prepaid phone minutes constitute a multi-billion dollar annual industry, one that encompasses virtually all extra-legal prison usage.
After some initial reservations, we endorsed jamming cell phone signals as part of our expansive vision for prison reform back in November 2017.
“Contraband cell phones are not the cause of violence in South Carolina’s prisons … but their ubiquitousness is clearly facilitating the violence, and the only argument we’ve heard against jamming cell phone signals is that it might impede wireless service in surrounding areas,” we wrote at the time.
Based on the clear and present threat posed to public safety by these prison-based criminal enterprises, that is frankly not a compelling reason to maintain the “jamming ban.”
As we noted at the time of the riots, the seven inmates who were killed at Lee were: Eddie Casey Gaskins, Joshua Jenkins, Cornelius McClary, Michael Milledge, Damonte Rivera, Corey Scott, and Raymond Angelo Scott.
The investigation into the prison riots was conducted by the grand jury, the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) the SCDC police services division and the Lee county sheriff’s office.
Handling the criminal cases against those indicted this week will be the attorney general’s office with assistance from S.C. third circuit solicitor Ernest A. Finney III, former S.C. circuit court judge Knox McMahon and former S.C. fifth circuit solicitor Barney Giese.
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