Attorneys for the family of an inmate killed during a riot at a Lee County prison have filed a lawsuit against the S.C. Department of Corrections.
The wrongful death suit was filed Thursday in state court. It alleges that Eddie Gaskins, 32, was killed as a result of “gross negligence and conscious indifference” by administrators and supervisors at Lee Correctional Institution, according to a statement by James B. Moore III, one of the attorneys representing the family.
The April 15 riot left seven inmates, including Gaskins, dead and 22 injured, Moore said. It was the nation’s deadliest prison riot in 25 years.
It drew national attention to South Carolina’s prison system and prompted a review by state lawmakers.
Speaking before a state Senate panel earlier this month, Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said prisons remain chronically understaffed, although some improvements in terms of officer pay and funding to fill open positions have helped.
Moore, however, alleges prison staff failed to properly monitor inmates, provide basic medical care or provide adequate supervision and training for correctional officers, among other issues.
“What should have been a likely two-year sentence resulted in a death sentence for Eddie,” the attorney said.
Gaskins’ died from severe loss of blood after suffering multiple stab wounds and “sharp force injuries,” according to the lawsuit.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for first-degree domestic violence after he showed up to a former girlfriend’s house in September 2016, grabbed her, threatened her in front of their children and armed himself with a shotgun.
And although Gaskins was classified as a nonviolent offender, he was transferred to the prison, which houses the most violent inmates in South Carolina, according to the suit.
“Prior to and during the time-period in question, the administrators, employees and correctional staff of Lee Correctional Institution were well-aware of the existence of competing gangs as well as the potential for violent outbreaks within the inmate population at Lee Correctional Institution,” the suit stated.
In addition, Corrections officials transported “several hundred competing gang members,” from McCormick Correctional Institution to the Lee County prison shortly before the day the riot broke out, according to the suit.
The transfer exacerbated what was already a dangerous environment where inmates had access to weapons like large knives and axes, according to the suit.
Other contraband, like cellphones and narcotics, were allegedly tolerated by guards who saw these items as a way of pacifying inmates, “thus making crowd control more feasible in the face of severe understaffing,” according to the suit.
Issues at the facility allegedly stretch back for years, according to a statement by Scott C. Evans, another attorney representing Gaskins’ family.
“Ten years ago, the Department of Corrections’ own documents implicated Lee Correctional staff in the freezing death of a non-verbal, developmentally disabled inmate,” Evans said.
That inmate, Jerome Laudman, died in 2008 from complications of hypothermia and sepsis while in the Special Management Unit at Lee Correctional Institution. He had spent 11 days lying naked on the concrete floor, according to news reports.
State officials settled a lawsuit brought by Laudman’s family for $1.2 million.
But Evans alleges that prison employees suffered essentially no consequences after Laudman’s death, pointing to a pattern of “blatant disregard for basic safety and human rights has no place in the modern world.”
Evans’ and Moore’s firm also plans to file a separate, federal lawsuit for “violations of Mr. Gaskins’ civil rights.”
The Corrections Department does not comment on pending litigation, said Jeff Taillon, a spokesman for the agency.