Bobby Jones Law: Settlement Announced in 2018 South Carolina Prison Riot

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Noted attorney Bobby Jones helped engineer a settlement which guarantees $6 million to the survivors of a deadly riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville.

The proposed settlement, which won unanimous approval from the South Carolina Fiscal Accountability Authority, resolves eighty-one federal and state lawsuits. Department Director Bryan Stirling blamed the worst U.S. prison riot in twenty-five years on illegal cell phones. Using the riot as a pretext, Stirling sought permission to install signal jamming technology, which is prohibited under federal law. But there have been some changes at Lee Correctional, such as a new cell door locking system. Additionally, the inmate population has dropped from over 1,300 just before the riot to under 300 today.

During this incident, seven inmates died during eight hours of rioting. One inmate said bodies were “literally stacked on top of each other, like some macabre woodpile.”

Standard of Care in Prisons

The Eighth Amendment and its prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment is usually associated with capital punishment. This standard also establishes the standard of care for state and federal correctional facilities. Essentially, prisons are caretakers. So, they have basically the same responsibilities. Some examples include:

  • Medical Care: According to the Supreme Court, correctional facilities must provide services for serious medical conditions. Basically, an SMC is any illness or injury which normally requires a doctor’s immediate attention. Additionally, South Carolina law requires each county to “provide access to institutional medical personnel.”
  • Health and Sanitation: A spotlight was on this area during the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing was usually difficult or impossible. However, the facility still had a duty to provide basic necessities, like frequent cleanings and in-cell sinks and toilets. The prison also has a duty to keep inmates reasonably safe.
  • Civil Rights: In some cases, a felony conviction could restrict certain rights. However, these restrictions, like gun ownership, usually don’t apply to incarcerated individuals. For the most part, prisoners have the same rights as anyone else in terms of things like access to the courts and disability rights.

Most courts compare the responsibility that prisons have to prisoners as the responsibility parents have to children.

Inside the Lee Correctional Settlement

Bobby filed suit on behalf of Reakwon Latray Watson. About a dozen inmates ambushed Reakwon during the riot. They stabbed him eight times in his back, hands, head, and arms.

Specifically, Reakwon’s lawsuit alleged that prison officials failed to provide medical care and failed to provide adequate security. Prison staff had largely retreated from the riot zone. According to the lawsuit, the riot started because staff failed to keep doors locked and did not properly deal with gang violence inside the prison.

“If these cases don’t spur any action, I don’t know what’s going to,” Bobby said at the time. “I don’t know how many more people need to die.”

“Reakwon and his family need and deserve this compensation so they can carry on with their lives,” Bobby said when the settlement was announced. “Much more importantly, the state must realize that prisoners are people too.”

Everyone deserves a safe and healthy place to live. For a confidential consultation with an experienced civil rights attorney in Greenville, contact Bobby Jones Law.


What causes prison riots?

Usually, the guards in these prisons are either too brutal or too stand-offish.

Do prisoners have rights?

Other than the right to travel, most prisoners have the same rights as everyone else.

What’s the difference between jail and prison?

People who are convicted of misdemeanors go to jail and felony convicts go to prison. Unsentenced inmates are usually jail inmates, regardless of the offense.

The team at Bobby Jones Law LLC works tirelessly for the injured in South Carolina. His achievements include:
  • More than $60 million collected for our clients
  • Multiple recoveries exceeding $1 million, including an eight-figure settlement
  • Recognized by Best Lawyers in America
  • Named among the “Best Law Firms” by U.S. News & World Report
  • Named to the Top 100 Trial Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers
  • Named to Super Lawyers 2017–2024
  • Member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum
  • Selected as Legal Elite of the Upstate 2021–2023
We’re humbled to be considered one of the top firms in the Upstate and invite you to learn what sets our award-winning legal services apart. Call or request a consultation online.
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