BISHOPVILLE, S.C. — The South Carolina grand jury has indicted 29 people for their roles in the 2018 riot at the Lee County Correctional Institute.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the unsealing of the indictments at a news conference held Thursday morning on the first floor of the Dennis building on the grounds of the Statehouse in Columbia.
“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. “Violence also spreads within the institutions because of contraband cell phones."
Wilson thanked all the agencies involved in the state grand jury investigation and said that anyone with information regarding the Lee Correctional Institution riots or contraband in any South Carolina Department of Corrections facility should contact the State Law Enforcement Division.
The case was investigated by the state grand jury, Wilson's office, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the South Carolina Department of Corrections Division of Police Services, the Third Circuit Solicitor’s Office, and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
“From the moment this happened, we have insisted that these men be brought to justice for the murder and mayhem they caused at Lee Correctional Institution,” said Bryan Stirling, director of the S.C. Department of Corrections. “I want to thank the attorney general, SLED, Lee County Sheriff’s Department, SCDC Police Services and everyone else involved for their hard work and diligence in bringing these charges. As I’ve said before, illegal cell phones contribute to contraband and violence, and we need national legislation to allow us to stop these phones from working.”
The indictment charges 62 counts against 29 individuals.
The indictments allege three conspiracies of groups of current or former inmates who “did conspire and combine for the purpose of engaging in violence against other inmates at the Lee Correctional Institution.” Inmates within those conspiracies are indicted for various other crimes, including murder, assault and battery by mob with a resulting death, assault and battery by mob with a resulting serious injury, and prisoner carrying or concealing weapon.
If convictions are obtained, murder carries penalties of 30 years to life in prison or death. Assault and battery by mob first degree with a resulting death carries a penalty of at least 30 years in prison. Assault and battery by mob second degree with serious injury resulting carries a penalty of three to 25 years in prison. Prisoner carrying or concealing a weapon carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Criminal conspiracy carries a penalty of up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine.
The indictments are the result of a 2019 request for an initiation of a state grand jury investigation into the 2018 riots after the information about the riots was reviewed by the South Carolina Department of Corrections, the State Law Enforcement Division, and the Third Circuit Solicitor's Office.
The riots occurred during the night of April 15, 2018, in the F-1, F-3, and F-5 dorms. Ultimately this violence resulted in injuries to numerous prisoners and the deaths of the following inmates: Eddie Casey Gaskins, Joshua Jenkins, Cornelius McClary, Michael Milledge, Damonte Rivera, Corey Scott, and Raymond Angelo Scott.
Bond hearings for the four defendants, Michael Juan Smith, Derrick Jerrod Rice, Ricardo Labruce Joseph, and Jidy Lavote Gary, not currently incarcerated were remotely held on Wednesday before the Judge Alison Renee Lee. Lee denied bonds of Smith and Rice. She granted Joseph a $125,000 surety bond and Gary a $75,000 surety bond.
Bond hearings for the remaining defendants who are currently incarcerated will be held at a time to be determined.
The cases will be prosecuted by Wilson's office along with Special Assistant Third Circuit Solicitor R. Knox McMahon and Special Assistant Third Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese.