As the first day of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the Camp Street Prison riot commenced on Thursday, one prisoner recounted that six cans of tear gas were lobbed into the building when the fire has started.
Dwayne Lewis, a prisoner accused of manslaughter, told the Commissioners that the canisters came from outside to inside the building which, according to him has “poor ventilation.”
“About 6 can of tear smoke was thrown into the building…after the tear smoke was thrown into the building it started to burn our eyes and skin so we run to a small ventilated area and we start calling for help, but we haven’t got any response from outside,” Lewis said while under oath.
However, before the cans were lobbed into the division, Lewis told the Commissioners that there was an order for the prisoners to come out of the division for a search to be conducted.
He stated that after he was packing his belongings to make his way out of the building, he heard someone “say lock the door…I don’t know it was who.”
It was then that the fire was started in the “middle” of the division, the prisoner related.
He said that when the prisoners were outside of the yard, the prison wardens used their batons to beat them. Lewis recounted that before the fire started he would have seen one of the prisoners being beaten to an unconscious state.
“By the time I run to the front he was already in an unconscious position,” said the prisoner.
Going back to when the fire started, Lewis related that he did not know who started the fire; however, he made him way to a room with some amount of ventilation to protect himself.
He said that prisoners then began breaking down a wall to escape the flames and possibly get some water to douse the fire.
“After the hole was broke and we apply for water to control the fire there wasn’t any water coming to the facility at that time,” he said later adding, “the for eventually grow bigger and bigger and tek over the whole cell. It caused some of the inmates to be bodily burnt up.”
Lewis told the Commissioners that he eventually made his escape through a hole in a wall.
“I saw the hole on the wall with some fire still blazing around it and I eventually made my escape through there while receiving burns to my lower abdomen,” he said later noting “I is the first person that came out of the building, I couldn’t say how many more persons escaped through that hole.”
The prisoner stated that he didn’t hear any officers give instructions to put out the fire but what he did hear was someone shouting “all who don’t want to come out lock the door and let them die in there.”
He however could not identify who that person was.
Lewis also detailed that the prisoners pleaded with the prison officers to open the doors to the facility; however, these pleas fell on deaf ears.
The night before the deadly fire, Lewis recalled that he was asleep when he was awoken by “slobs of water.” Upon investigation, he “saw fire outside the small ventilation, outside the dormitory on the cage and the fire-ene was spraying water to out this fire.” (Jomo Brusheildon Paul)