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South Carolina's prisons among the deadliest in the US

Published: Monday, April 16, 2018 @ 11:24 PM
Updated: Monday, April 16, 2018 @ 11:22 PM


            South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling addresses the media during a press conference following a prison riot at the Lee Correctional Institution Monday, April 16, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling addresses the media during a press conference following a prison riot at the Lee Correctional Institution Monday, April 16, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Twenty South Carolina prisoners have been killed at the hands of fellow inmates in the past 16 months. The staggering amount of violence, which includes the gang-fueled bloodshed that left seven prisoners dead and 22 injured this week at Lee Correctional Institution, has some legislators calling for more oversight and transparency at the state Department of Corrections.

At a news conference, Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said officers stormed in and took the first of three dorms back from rioting prisoners about four hours after the melee began. He said the officers were assembled at the rural prison as quickly as possible and went in only when it was safe to do so.

After the institution was back under control, it then took more time to get injured inmates to hospitals. The prison is located 40 miles east of Columbia.

"It shouldn't take five hours to get in there and put some water on these fires," said state Rep. Justin Bamberg, a Democrat and lawyer whose clients include the families of several inmates who were attacked in previous instances.

Contraband cellphones and staffing shortages are often blamed for many of the department's woes. Stirling, who oversees 21 prisons and more than 19,000 inmates, has said he's hired some of the 500 corrections officers he needs, but stresses the need for funding more officers.

Sen. Gerald Malloy, whose district includes Lee Correctional, said the government has a responsibility to keep the prison population safe and thinks lawmakers need to look at whether cost savings in corrections has been efficient.

"The burden comes back to the General Assembly, what are you going to do?" he said.

Stirling - who served as then-Gov. Nikki Haley's chief of staff before she appointed him to lead the prisons in 2013 - said his No. 1 security threat is cellphones, which gives inmates unfettered communication allowing them to commit crimes inside and outside of prison. He said the riot started Sunday night as a gang war over territory, money and illegal items such as cellphones.

Stirling has urged the Federal Communications Commission to allow the prison to block or jam cellphone signals to prevent inmates from using them.

Violence at Lee and other institutions throughout South Carolina is not surprising, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster noted at the news conference. McMaster echoed Stirling's call for the ability to jam cellphones in prison but didn't propose any other substantive alternatives. "We do the best we can," the governor said.

From 2001 to 2014, an average of 60 inmates died annually in state prisons across the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 2017, a dozen South Carolina inmates were killed by other inmates.

"That's staggeringly out of proportion," said John Pfaff, a Fordham law professor who tracks prison data. "It makes a prison that is supposed to be a secure facility - a place with no weapons, a place where you can't leave - as dangerous as living in the most dangerous city in America."

In February, an inmate killed a fellow prisoner at Lee, where this week's attack took place among inmates armed with homemade knives used to slash and stab rival gang members. An inmate stabbed two officers in 2015. At Kirkland, another maximum-security prison, two inmates killed four prisoners last year in under an hour.

For the past few months, The Associated Press has been communicating with a Lee prisoner who used a contraband cellphone to offer insight into life behind bars. He said inmates there roam freely, have easy access to cellphones and drugs, and are often left to police themselves.

The inmate spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity because his cellphone is illegal and he fears retribution from other prisoners. He described a facility run by gangs, and guards who take a hands-off approach because they fear for their own safety.

In the most recent incident, he told AP that officers stayed in a control booth for hours Sunday night, waiting for backup as inmates lay dying in pools of blood. That echoes earlier anecdotes he shared about what happens whenever gang fights break out.

"The Crips and Bloods had a confrontation just a few feet from my cell door and, when the knives, machetes, axes, pipes and body armor came out, the cops were nowhere to be found," he wrote in February.

To get away from the fighting, the inmate said he stays in his cell. But the door lock has been broken for months, so he said he and others jam materials into the lock to try to keep others from coming in.

"ALL of the doors to the cells are broken," the inmate wrote. "At any time, I can let myself out of my cell, to do whatever it is that I would want to do."

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Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins and Christina Myers in Columbia contributed to this report.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard .

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This story has been corrected to say Kirkland instead of McCormick.

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Waffle House shooting: Man accused of killing 4 in Tennessee arrested

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 2:09 PM
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 2:09 PM

Police: 4 Dead After Waffle House Shooting by Nude Gunman

Authorities on Monday afternoon arrested a man suspected of stripping at a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee, early Sunday before opening fire on customers and employees, killing four people.

Nashville police confirmed that authorities arrested suspected shooter Travis Reinking, 29, on Monday afternoon. He was earlier identified as the man suspected of killing Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29; Joe R. Perez, 20; Akilah Dasilva and DeEbony Groves, 21. 

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Unfazed while being shot with Taser, unruly passenger forcibly removed from American Airlines flight

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 1:13 PM

Jacob Garcia. (Photo: Miami-Dade Corrections)
Jacob Garcia. (Photo: Miami-Dade Corrections)

Police used a stun gun and forcibly removed an unruly passenger Sunday who started a fight with a couple aboard a plane at Miami International Airport, police said. 

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Jacob Garcia, 28, touched a female passenger without her permission, screamed and insulted her and her boyfriend before attendants on the American Airlines flight from Miami to Chicago moved him to another seat, according to WPLG

After he was moved to another seat, he began using racial slurs and was asked to leave the plane, according to WPLG. When he refused, the crew started to deplane the entire aircraft. That is when Garcia started a physical altercation with the passenger he was rude to earlier, according to airline officials. 

“What is the reason? Why you are removing from this plane,” Garcia is heard saying in a passenger’s video

“You just assaulted a lady,” a man replies.

When Miami-Dade police officers arrived, Garcia was belligerent with them and was subsequently subdued with a Taser, video shows. The remaining passengers on board can be heard clapping when he was removed. The plane departed about an hour later than scheduled, American Airlines said.

Police said Garcia reached for an officer’s service weapon and kicked out a window of a patrol car when he was taken into custody, according to WPLG.

Garcia was arrested and charged with battery, attempting to deprive an officer of their means of protection, disorderly conduct, resisting an officer and criminal mischief, according to police.

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Florida judge does not return to courtroom after berating frail inmate who died 3 days later

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 3:15 PM

Judge Merrilee Ehrlich. (Photo: Seventeeth Judicial Circuit of Florida)
Cliff Frommer
Judge Merrilee Ehrlich. (Photo: Seventeeth Judicial Circuit of Florida)(Cliff Frommer)

A Florida judge who berated a frail inmate who died three days later will not return to the bench, court officials said. 

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Circuit Court Judge Merrilee Ehrlich will not return to the bench after her treatment of Sandra Twiggs, 59, who appeared before her last week on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, Broward Chief Administrative Judge Jack Tuter said Saturday, according to WFOR.

“In light of recent events we have decided Judge Ehrlich will be told not to return to the courthouse as her retirement is effective June 30,” Tuter said, according to The Associated Press. “I will be working this weekend to find a substitute to cover Judge Ehrlich’s (family court) division.”

During the first appearance, Twiggs, who was in a wheelchair, explained to Ehrlich that she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and needed breathing treatments, according to WFOR

First appearance hearings are streamed online and recorded.

“Ma’am, don’t even say yes. Just listen,” Ehrlich said. “I’m not here to talk about your breathing treatments.”

Ehrlich released Twiggs without bond. Twiggs died Wednesday in her sleep.

“When she came home from being in there she was never the same,” Carolyn Porter, Twiggs’ goddaughter, told WFOR.

Ehrlich who was first elected in 2008 planned to retire June 30. She filed her retirement paperwork two weeks prior to this incident. 

Tuter said he would be calling Twiggs’ family to apologize. 

“I am saddened and disappointed in the way Judge Ehrlich behaved on the video. Her behavior cannot be condoned,” he said.

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Video shows Alabama police wrestle woman, expose her breasts at Waffle House

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 2:12 PM

A graphic video shows Saraland, Alabama, police officers wrestling a black  woman before arresting her inside a Waffle House restaurant (not pictured). (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images
A graphic video shows Saraland, Alabama, police officers wrestling a black woman before arresting her inside a Waffle House restaurant (not pictured). (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)(Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

graphic video showing police officers wrestling a black 25-year-old woman before arresting her inside a Saraland, Alabama, Waffle House restaurant Sunday is making the rounds on social media, sparking outrage across the country. The incident allegedly escalated over 50 cents’ worth of plastic cutlery.

Chikesia Clemons was arrested around 2:45 a.m. on charges of “disorderly conduct and resisting arrest,” her mother, Chiquitta Clemons-Howard, told AL.com. She paid her daughter’s $1,000 bond Sunday morning.

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In the cell phone video, captured by Clemons’ friend, Canita Adams, Saraland police officers are seen speaking with Clemons and then pulling her off a chair and onto the floor of the restaurant.

“What are you doing?” Clemons asks the officers in the video.

“I’ll break your arm, that’s what I’m about to do,” an officer responds.

Two officers are then seen wrestling with Clemons, grabbing her neck and wrist and trying to flip her over to arrest her. The altercation turns graphic as Clemons’ clothes are pulled down “to reveal her breasts as white patrons continue to eat in the background,” AL.com reported.

Related: Philadelphia Starbucks arrest: Men say manager called 911 minutes after they arrived

In the video, when the officer placed his hand around her neck, Clemons cries, “You’re choking me!”

Clemons-Howard told AL.com the incident arose after Clemons refused to pay an extra 50 cents for plastic utensils and the employee canceled the order. According to AL.com, Clemons and Adams said they were not charged for utensils when they ordered from the same Waffle House the night before.

“They didn’t even ask her to leave, she was waiting for them to give her the district manager’s card so she could file a complaint on one of the waitresses,” Clemons-Howard told AL.com. “When they went to go get the card, that’s when the police showed up. The officer should’ve come in and said we need you to leave.”

Chance the Rapper weighed in on Twitter.

“Protect our women. This is wrong, this is unjust and this happens to alot (sic) of women when there are NO cameras around,” he wrote. “Stand with our women. Defend their voice, and their right to ask why they’re being handled, being removed, being CHOKED. Be infuriated. Be willing to fight.”

The altercation and arrest come 10 days after two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia on trespassing charges.

Mobile, Alabama, NAACP President David Smith said in a statement Sunday that the organization is looking into the episode. 

“In light of the current situation in our country -- such as the arrest of two young black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks coffee shop -- we felt it was important for our members to get a firsthand account of the incident, which has now gone viral on social media locally and across the country,” Smith said.

A spokesman with the Saraland Police Department also said the department is investigating. The department also said that Saraland’s public safety director, Chief J.C. West, and Mayor Howard Rubenstein are aware of the situation.

“The Saraland Police Department is aware of the arrest at Waffle House and the accompanying video on social media,” the department said in a Facebook post. “The situation is being thoroughly reviewed and is under active investigation right now. Our department strives for transparency and we encourage our community to be aware of current events.”

Read more at AL.com.

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