Inmate calls WIS: "They're shooting more tear gas in here right now"

An unidentified man who claimed to be an inmate inside the Lee Correctional Institution while an officer was being held hostage Wednesday morning called the WIS newsroom and described the situation.

Sunrise anchor Hannah Horne spoke with the supposed inmate for several minutes just after 3:45 a.m. During the call, loud voices and explosions could be heard in the background.

"Why are you calling me?" asked Hannah. The inmate, who would not identify himself, told Hannah that he and the dozens of others incarcerated inside the Sumter Unit of the prison had given law enforcement a list of demands. The inmates asked for adequate medical care, access to reading material, three hot meals a day, and access to their legal books, mail and notes.

"How are you on the telephone right now?" asked Hannah. The inmate paused and responded by saying, "that's not important now."

Prison officials told WIS late Tuesday night that inmates had been using illegal cell phones to contact law enforcement during the uprising.

The situation started when a nurse, escorted by the corrections officer, was passing out medication around 9 p.m. Tuesday. Prison officials said a group of inmates got their hands on the officer when he unlocked a cell door.

Officials said the nurse usually slides medication to prisoners through a slit on each inmate's cell, but last night the cell door was instead unlocked by the officer and that's when the inmate overpowered him and things got out of control.

The nurse escaped, but the officer was held hostage by approximately 116 inmates.

"He was walking on his own and, of course, was sent to the local hospital here to check to see what injuries he may have sustained," said South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesperson Clark Newsom.

Officials said the officer did not have any weapons, but had been assaulted. "The officer is hurt, but he's still breathing," said the inmate.

"We already informed them that if the tear gas continues, the officer is gonna continue getting hurt," said the inmate. "If they don't turn the water on, the officer is going to continue getting hurt."

After negotiations broke down, prison officials said they decided to move in on the institution. "The decision was made about 3:15 this morning that the inmates were not going to give up on their own," Newsom said.

As officers began their assault on the prison, the inmate cut the call short. "I'm gonna end this call, the officers are coming in now," he said.

The uprising ended after about seven hours. Department of Corrections special operations officers used explosives to blow a door down and go into the prison. The rescued corrections officer was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

Officials have not yet determined if any one inmate is responsible for organizing the uprising.

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