News 2 Special Report - A Call To Kill - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

News 2 Special Report - A Call To Kill

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CHARLESTON, SC - Four years after nearly losing his life during a home invasion Robert Johnson’s days are packed with hospital visits and doctor appointments.

He is the first U.S. correctional officer to have survived a hit ordered from behind bars.

“I was getting ready for work that morning and I heard my door being kicked in. I heard a voice saying ‘police,’ and I knew it was not the police,” Johnson said.

The hit came as no surprise because Johnson and other officers had been suspicious that an inmate might try to retaliate against him.

“This guy, he shot me with six of these,” Johnson said.

Just a few weeks ago, Sean Echols, pleaded guilty to the crime. He admitted to having received $6,000 from an inmate to carry out the murder-for-hire plot.

The hit Johnson would later learn was ordered on an illegal cell phone hidden in the inmate’s cell.

Though the inmate remains a mystery in court documents, Johnson says he knows very well who placed a hit on him. The former Lee Correctional Institution officer claims a gang-leader targeted him because the contraband unit had targeted the inmate for running a criminal enterprise from within jail.

Despite his health problems, Johnson has made it his mission to help keep cell phones out of the hands of prisoners by pushing for jammers in correctional facilities, which would kill cell phone signals for inmates.

The obstacle is that a 1934 Federal Communications Act bans blocking all radio communications in public.

Late in 2010, several South Carolina wardens rallied behind Johnson and urged the public to contact legislatures and demand that the FCC amend the Act. 

"A drone was found outside of one of our higher security institutions this week and that is something we have not yet seen in South Carolina," said Bryan Stirling, director for the South Carolina Department of Corrects.  

Today the South Carolina Department of Corrections is using other means to deter the growing number of illegal cell phones in prison by installing new technology and asking legislators to stiffen the penalties for those who are caught smuggling phones into prison.

The next best alternative to jamming cell phone signals in prisons, says Johnson, is a program SCDC is working on implementing.

Manage Access is a program that would screen all the cell phone calls within the facility. Those numbers that are approved will get dropped and receive a text message to alert them.

“You can capture what's being said, and the inmates were saying call the FCC they're blocking our phones,” said Stirling.

However, there are several disadvantages with the program.

“If we're able to block the phones that would be great as oppose to manage access because manage access, it's early in development, it's not 100 percent and its quiet costly.”

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