ATLANTA (AP) — Guards briefly lost control of a part of an east Georgia prison after a series of fights broke out and rampaging inmates destroyed dormitories, set fire to furniture and broke into an administration office, according to prison records.
The fighting at Hancock State Prison in Sparta on Friday left 12 inmates injured, including one who was stabbed multiple times in the back. Two inmates suffered injuries so severe they had to be airlifted to nearby hospitals. No guards were hurt in the violence, which wasn't quelled until backup units arrived.
Details of the fight were obtained by The Associated Press through an Open Records request. Prison officials did not immediately return calls seeking additional comment on Thursday.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kristen Stancil has said the fighting was gang-related and was organized using cellphones smuggled illegally into the prison, a facility with about 1,400 beds that houses many violent prisoners serving long sentences.
Much of the fighting took place in a medium-security tent city on prison grounds that houses about 250 inmates in tents that have solid walls, similar to military tents. Several assaults were also reported in the main prison. No inmates attempted to escape, and the names of the injured inmates or those involved in the fighting were not disclosed.
The report documented a frenetic situation, with simultaneous fights in different parts of the facility.
The problems started around 6:40 p.m. Friday when a guard at a dormitory found an inmate had been stabbed multiple times in the back and escorted him to the medical unit. Within 15 minutes, multiple fights broke out at the tent city and in other parts of the main building.
Inmates in prison dormitories began to set fires outside windows and smashed TV sets, light fixtures and other electronics. In the tent area, they burned laundry carts, blankets and mattress. Some wrapped T-shirts around their faces to shield their identities.
As fighting raged in the tent city, a group of inmates targeted an administration area, also housed in a walled tent. They managed to use fire extinguishers to knock off the lock sealing the unit and then vandalized the office. The inmates gained control of the radios in the unit, but the report didn't detail whether they were used.
By seizing control of the administration tent, the inmates were also able to gain access to another part of the prison. They removed mattresses, chairs and other furniture and lit them on fire in front of the unit.
It's not clear where the guards were positioned as the violence unfolded, but the report said authorities were able to secure prison gates to prevent any escape attempts.
It's also unclear how long it took to impose order again, but authorities said six specially trained tactical squads, four police dog units and officers from the Georgia State Patrol, the Sparta Police Department and Hancock County Sheriff's office were able to quell the violence.
The report recommends transferring the inmates involved in the fighting to other facilities, and authorities have said about 150 inmates from the tent city were being shipped to other state prisons. It's not known whether any inmates will face criminal charges for their roles in the violence.
It was the second significant disturbance in Georgia prisons this month. Corrections officials said a large fight inside the Telfair State Prison in Helen last week left three inmates hospitalized.
The relatives of inmates at Hancock State Prison are growing concerned about their safety. Terrie Marshall said she has been trying for months to get her son Joseph Jones transferred to a facility closer to her LaGrange, Ga., home, and Friday's fights only intensified her fears.
"There's no doubt in my mind that he deserves to serve the time in prison," she said of her son, who has served about three years of his 10-year sentence for aggravated assault. "But I'm concerned about his safety, and there are a lot of parents worried about their sons' safety in that facility. Fights have even broken out while we were in visitation."