- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

PENNINGTON GAP, Va. (AP) - The Federal Bureau of Prisons is investigating fights that injured eight inmates and one staffer at a penitentiary in southwest Virginia.

Several fights broke out at U.S. Penitentiary, Lee starting at about 6:20 p.m. Wednesday, prison spokesman Mark Ryan said. He said in a news release that the fracas was contained by prison staff.

Virginia State Police and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office sent officers to help secure the prison’s perimeter, and the state police provided a helicopter for aerial surveillance. U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Ed Ross said in a telephone interview Thursday that there was no threat to public safety.

Ryan said eight inmates were taken to a hospital outside the prison for treatment of injuries. One staffer suffered a minor injury.

Wellmont Health System spokesman Jim Wozniak said six patients from the prison remained hospitalized Thursday at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tennessee. All were in fair condition.

Wozniak said the injuries included stab wounds, broken teeth and lacerations.

Ross said the housing units of the prison, which holds 1,570 high-security male inmates, were locked down while officials conduct an investigation. He said it is too early to say what caused the fights.

“There are groups of inmates that don’t like other groups of inmates,” he said. “The warden will review everything to try to determine the cause and sanction any inmate that assaulted another inmate or staffer.”

Ross was unable to say whether any weapons were confiscated but noted that such contraband is not unusual in high-security institutions.

Lee County Sheriff Gary B. Parsons said “there is a lot of gang activity inside” the prison, but he did not know if that was a factor in Wednesday evening’s fights. He said there have been fights in the prison before, but “nothing on this scale.”

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