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‘I was afraid for my life': CO takes the stand in inmate’s trial for 2018 S.C. prison riot

Corrections Officer Clive Lopez Jr. testified he had to fend off inmates during the deadly riot and that he didn’t feel safe initiating a lockdown

By Sarah Roebuck

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A corrections officer who was on duty during the most deadly prison riot in South Carolina’s history testified in the trial of an inmate charged in the incident, WLTX reports.

Wednesday’s court session featured testimonies in the case against Michael Juan Smith, who is accused of conspiracy, assault leading to death and possession of a weapon within prison walls. Smith’s charges stem from the April 2018 riot at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, which led to the death of seven inmates and injuries sustained by more than 20 others.

Corrections Officer Clive Lopez Jr., who was on duty during the riot on April 15, 2018, took the stand on Wednesday. During his testimony, Lopez said he had to fend off inmates and that he didn’t feel safe initiating a lockdown because he was threatened by approaching inmates as he tried to secure the doors.

Surveillance video shown during the trial showed inmates lunging at Lopez with sharp objects as he attempted to patrol the area.

While on the stand, Lopez was questioned by State Prosecutor Barney Giese about the recent incident captured on video, to which Lopez explained, “I took the keys off my belt and just threw them on the ground in an attempt to spin away from the inmate.”

Giese further probed, “The inmate with the weapon? Why would you do that?”

“I was afraid for my life,” Lopez said.

The principal investigator from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Agent Jamie Shaw, also testified before the jury. Her evidence included identifying and tracking inmates on the surveillance video before, during, and after the assault that led to inmate Cornelius McClary’s demise.