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Families of inmates want to know why tear gas was used after fight at state prison

WPDE

Some families of inmates at Evans Correctional Institution in Bennettsville want to know why correctional officers used tear gas following a fight Tuesday at the prison.

Three inmates at Evans Correctional Institution in Bennettsville were hurt during an altercation Tuesday morning and two employees were injured while responding to the incident, according to Jeffrey M. Taillon with the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC).

Talion said, after the fight, "in half of a housing unit, inmates were refusing to return to their cells."

He said tear gas was used to help with crowd control and secure the housing unit.

Three families of inmates at the detention center contacted ABC15 News to voice their concerns about the amount of tear gas used.

They said more than 28 canisters of tear gas were deployed in the incident.

The families we spoke with didn't want to give their names for fear it would identify their relatives serving time at the prison.

"I mean, 28 canisters. To see that smoke in that room and how thick it was, I just can't imagine how bad it was. I just feel like 28 cans was overkill. Did you really need to use that many to get the situation under control?" asked one woman.

"There was people that couldn't breathe. People fighting to get out because there was no air for them to breathe. He said that stuff takes your breath," added another family member.

The families shared pictures and cell phone video of all the smoke inside the housing unit after correctional officers deployed the tear gas.

We asked them where the video came from since inmates aren't supposed to have access to cell phones. The families said they're aren't sure who recorded the video.

ABC15 News told SCDC officials the video had been provided to us.

Families members said some inmates were refused medical treatment by correctional officers (COs) after the tear gas was used.

"There were people in there, inmates that needed medical attention. And, when they told the COs that there were people in there that required medical attention, they were denied that," said one woman.

Talion said issued the following statement: "When necessary, tear gas is one of the tools our correctional officers use as a crowd control device. Medical attention is provided when needed and safe to do so."

Some families also questioned why inmates were not fed until more than 12 hours after the initial disturbance at the prison on Tuesday.

"They were fed at 6 a.m. and at 8 p.m. They still had not been fed again," said a relative.

Talion said in an email to us, "The meal schedule resumed as soon as it was safe to do so."

Other inmate relatives have asked why some rooms in the housing unit had been without power for the past few weeks.

Talion said there was no widespread power outage at Evans Correctional Institution.

There have been 45 incidents in the past three years at Evans Correctional Institution in Bennettsville where employees and correctional officers were assaulted by inmates, according to information from SCDC.

The information also says roughly 50 inmates have been assaulted by other inmates since 2014.

Some inmates' loved ones say they're really worried about their family members' wellbeing while in the prison.

"I feel like there's no rehabilitation going on. I feel like they're mistreating the inmates. And, I feel like the prison just doesn't care and are, more or less, treating them just like animals."

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