- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A man has been sentenced to 15 years behind bars for trying to use a drone to smuggle contraband into a maximum security South Carolina prison, officials said Tuesday.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stephanie Givens told The Associated Press that Brenton Lee Doyle has been sentenced to 10 years for trying to bring contraband into prison and five years for marijuana possession. She said he pleaded guilty in a Lee County court.

In April, officials found a crashed drone in bushes outside the walls of Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. Officers also found materials that inmates are not supposed to have, including phones, tobacco products, marijuana and synthetic marijuana.

The drone never made it inside the 12-foot-high razor wire fence. At the time, officials said they weren’t sure exactly where the drone would have gone if it made it over the wall.

Corrections officials have long said that the use of banned cellphones behind bars is a security threat to correctional officers and the public. In 2010, then-Corrections Capt. Robert Johnson was shot six times at his Sumter home in a hit police said was orchestrated by an inmate using a cellphone smuggled into prison. Johnson, who worked at Lee, survived and has since retired.

The department has been trying to take measures to stop future drones from infiltrating the state’s correctional facilities. In December, Corrections officials began installing new surveillance towers and thermal imaging cameras to cut down on contraband at Lee.

Officials have said most attempts to throw items over the fence for the inmates occur at night, so the thermal technology cameras should help detect such incidents.

“Smuggling drugs and cellphones into our prisons jeopardizes the safety and security of our public servants who work at Corrections and the community,” director Bryan Stirling said in a statement to AP. “This is an issue we take very seriously.”

Officials said the April incident was the first known attempt to use a drone to smuggle contraband into the state’s prisons. In 2013, four people in Georgia were accused of using a remote-controlled drone to fly tobacco and cellphones into a state prison there.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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