It's been more than five months since seven inmates were killed and 22 were injured in rioting at Lee prison, but no charges have been filed and there's not even an agreement on who will prosecute the cases. That's unacceptable.
State Law Enforcement Division investigators should have had enough time to identify and charge at least some of the attackers. The S.C. Attorney General Office's also should step up to prosecute the cases directly or supply 3rd Circuit Solicitor Chip Finney with any help he needs.
But authorities apparently still don't have a game plan for prosecuting those responsible for the carnage during the nation's deadliest prison riot in 25 years. As reported Sept. 7 by The Post and Courier's Gregory Yee, Finney said his office didn't have the resources to handle such a complex case involving multiple defendants. He said his office was working with SLED, the Department of Corrections and the Attorney General's Office on how to proceed. But that was a month ago.
Robert Kittle of the Attorney General's Office said his office was waiting for SLED and the Department of Corrections to wrap up separate investigations before filing charges or presenting them to a grand jury. SLED is handling the criminal investigation while the DOC looks at the root causes of the violence. And while the agencies sort all this out, the killers go unpunished.
It's important to find out why the melee happened and how such events can be avoided in the future. But prosecutors shouldn't have to wait on the results of the DOC investigation led by former Texas prisons director Brad Livingston. It's unclear how far along SLED is with its investigation or what it might need to move things along.
While it would be tidy to prosecute all the cases in one fell swoop, SLED investigators should proceed with individual cases as soon as they have enough evidence to do so. The men who were killed and their families should be accorded the same level of justice as any victim.
Perhaps some of the suspects are among the 48 problem inmates moved to a private prison in Mississippi after the April 15 riot. If that is a factor impeding the SLED investigation, surely the DOC can find a place to house them more convenient to investigators.
Compiling evidence against multiple murder suspects is no doubt time consuming, but investigators should already have some pretty strong evidence in the form of video surveillance from inside the prison.
Only one of the inmates killed — Damonte Rivera, 24, who was convicted of a 2012 murder in Georgetown — was ineligible for parole. The six others had their eventual shot at freedom dashed during a riot that took about seven hours to bring under control.
The state owes these men justice. SLED Chief Mark Keel and Attorney General Alan Wilson need to assure the public and the families of those killed that the culprits will be prosecuted soon. In the meantime, prisons chief Bryan Stirling has plenty of hard work to do to make South Carolina prisons safer and more humane.
This editorial is from The Post and Courier of Charleston via The Associated Press.