Crime & Courts

Guilty Pleas Entered In Deadly 2018 South Carolina Prison Riot

Four inmates plead guilty … more than forty still facing charges.

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Four inmates at the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) have pleaded guilty to various charges in connection with a deadly 2018 riot at Lee Correctional Institution, a level-three (maximum security) prison located in Bishopville, S.C.

The riot – a gang-on-gang slaughter – left seven inmates dead and seventeen others wounded. It was the deadliest prison riot in the United States in a quarter century.

According to a joint news release from SCDC and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the pleas entered this week are the first since indictments were issued back in December of 2020. At least forty individuals are still facing criminal charges in connection with the incident – including multiple inmates who are facing murder charges.

 “These inmates took part in violent mayhem fueled by contraband and illegal cellphones and are now being held accountable,” SCDC director Bryan Stirling said. “This is just the beginning. We intend to prosecute everyone charged with crimes involving the Lee riot.” 

Here is the full audio from Thursday’s SCDC press conference …

(Click to View)

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The deadly violence at Lee began when rival gangs within the prison initiated a turf war after several inmates were transferred to Lee from McCormick Correctional Institution – another 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.

As the violence escalated, a relatively new arrival who had joined the Crips for protection was said to have been slaughtered “ritualistically” in front of the other inmates – allegedly to “send a message.”

“He was quietly staying out of riot but the Bloods came and took him out and killed him,” a source familiar with the incident told us at the time. “He was carved up in front of the others.”

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After the first round of murders, gang members began “fighting (throughout) the prison.” At one point, bodies of wounded inmates were “stacked like cordwood” inside the facility.

“Some of the inmates were bleeding out in the pile still alive,” one witness told us.

SCDC officers were unable to regain control of the facility until approximately 3:00 a.m. EDT on Monday, April 16, 2018. SLED dispatched its SWAT team to assist in that process.

 “The SLED SWAT team worked with SCDC’s emergency response teams to secure a dangerous situation, preventing further loss of life,” SLED chief Mark Keel said. “A subsequent joint investigation by SLED and SCDC made sure those responsible were brought to justice. SLED is committed to assisting state partners like SCDC, with the hope that one day what happened at Lee Correctional five years ago can be prevented in the future.” 

Prison officials blamed contraband cell phones for helping escalate the bloodshed.

“That really played a huge part in this,” former Richland County solicitor and special prosecutor Barney Giese said at Thursday’s press conference. “(Phones) kept it from being isolated.”

Stirling has been an impassioned advocate for jamming phone signals in prisons. So has S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson. And so was former U.S. attorney (and current U.S. district court judge) Sherri Lydon.

“The only way to stop the public-safety threat from contraband phones is to disable cell signals and render the devices completely useless,” Lydon wrote in a 2019 opinion editorial for The Wall Street Journal.

After some initial reservations, we endorsed jamming cell phone signals as part of our expansive vision for prison reform back in November 2017.

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GUILTY PARTIES …

The four inmates who pleaded guilty are as follows:

Mike Smalls, 28, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and battery by mob and conspiracy. He was sentenced to 18 years on the mob charge and five years for conspiracy. These charges are concurrent. Smalls received three years credit for time served. 

Rahim F. Carter, 40, pleaded guilty to possession of contraband. He was sentenced to five years and received three years credit for time served. 

Tyrone Lewis Jr., 34, pleaded guilty to possession of contraband. He was sentenced to three years and received three years credit for time served. 

Arsenio Donta C. Colclough, 36, pleaded guilty to possession of contraband. He was sentenced to three years credit for time served. Colclough is currently housed in the Sumter-Lee Detention Center on unrelated charges. 

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All of the inmates charged in connection with Thursday’s pleas are currently incarcerated, according to the SLED/ SCDC release. Their new sentences “will be incorporated into their existing ones,” the release noted.

Keel and Stirling thanked Wilson’s office for its work in prosecuting these cases.

Count on this news outlet to keep our audience up to speed on any new plea deals associated with this story – as well as any scheduled trials.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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