On June 29, South Carolina’s Department of Corrections received approval of a $6 million settlement for victims of the deadly 2018 riot at Lee Correctional Institution (LCI). The riot left seven dead, more than 12 injured, and spawned more than 80 lawsuits.
The lawsuits alleged that officials failed to keep inmates safe. It was considered the worst prison riot in the U.S. in a quarter-century. The violence spurred changes in the way the facility was run.
The DOC requested that the State Fiscal Accountability Authority approve the settlement and end the litigation in state and federal court. The SFAA did so at its June 29 meeting.
Fighting Lasted Eight Hours
The violence began in one dorm on April 15, 2018, and soon spread to other units. It involved three feuding gangs. One 24-year- old inmate entered the cell of Michael Milledge, 44, a well-liked man, and stabbed him to death. Gang members then retaliated against the killer, Damonte Rivera, murdering him and going after his associates.
According to authorities, illegal cell phones contributed to the rampage, allowing prisoners to communicate with each other in different areas of the prison and thus spread violence.
The dead inmates ranged from new arrivals to those who had been there for years. Although some were incarcerated for murder, others were in prison for crimes such as drug possession and domestic violence.
In December 2020, 29 inmates were indicted by a South Carolina grand jury for their role in the riot.
Since the riot, the DOC has implemented various changes. Formerly, inmates were often housed together based on the nature of their crimes and the length of sentences. Officials said that practice ended up in housing too many of the wrong people together.
Inmates have since been reclassified as rewards for good behavior. That means only the most dangerous remain locked up in maximum security. Before the riot, 85 percent of the roughly 1,600 inmates at LCI were held in maximum custody. There was no incentive to behave themselves. Today, just 20 percent of inmates, who now number approximately 1,400, are held in maximum security.
Security outside and inside the prison has been upgraded. Fifty-foot tall nets have been installed around the perimeter. These nets block contraband, including cell phones, from being thrown over. More razor wire was added to the exterior.
Failed cell locking systems, which allowed inmates to exit their cells and wander about, have been replaced. Because the violence was gang-related, there is a better tracking system in place to identify gang activity. Prior to April 15, 2018, only 260 inmates in the entire state had been identified as gang members. Now, the number has grown to 2,250.
Some of the worst offenders during the riot were moved to a Mississippi prison after the riot. Those men number nearly 50.
Peace Through Sports
Perhaps most telling about the atmosphere at LCI three years post-riot is a basketball tournament held on the anniversary between rival gangs. The idea was to promote peace through sports, an unthinkable idea before the events of that terrible day and its aftermath.
If your family member died in jail or seriously injured and you suspect foul play, you may have a claim against the prison and the government for negligence, wrongful death, and civil rights violations. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone at 866.836.4684