Dylann Roof, the white man charged in the massacre of nine black parishioners at a Charleston church, was slugged Thursday by a black inmate at the South Carolina jail where he is being held, law officials said.
Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said Roof, 22, was taken from his protective custody cell at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center around 7:45 a.m. Thursday and walked downstairs to take a shower. Roof, as well as other inmates in that unit, are let out individually.
Before he was able to reach the showers, inmate Dwayne Stafford, 25, ran downstairs and assaulted Roof by punching him multiple times, Cannon said during a Thursday afternoon press conference.
The 22-year-old Roof was examined by jail medical personnel and then returned to his cell, Charleston County Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Watson said.
“He assaulted (Roof) for no reason,” Cannon said.
Cannon described Roof’s injuries as “relatively minor,” including bruising around his face and back. He said Roof was in a defensive posture during the assault and did not fight back.
The sheriff said Roof and his attorney have indicated they do not want to bring charges against Stafford, 26. Cannon said the jail is investigating whether to file charges against Stafford for the assault, though it is difficult it when witnesses are not cooperating.
Detention officers are supposed to check the doors in that unit to make sure all cells are locked when inmates are let out separately.
“We, obviously, are looking into the issue of the door lock and what may have failed there,” Cannon said.
One detention officer escorting Roof was taking a break, which is not normal protocol, and another was delivering toilet paper to another inmate. Cannon said the second officer was the one who separated Stafford and Roof within seconds of the start of the scuffle.
Cannon said this has not happened before with Roof and described it as a “wake-up call” for officers falling into complacency when following routines day after day. He said it does not appear that staff followed the jail’s policies following up to the incident.
“We have adequate policies in place,” he said. “It’s a matter of making sure folks stay at a heightened sense of awareness and follow those policies and procedure to stay on top of these very serious inmates.”
Roof has been housed at the Charleston County Detention Center since being brought back from North Carolina a day after the June 17, 2015, slayings of nine black parishioners during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church. Prosecutors have said Roof was trying to make his way to Nashville, Tennessee, after the shootings.
When asked if Stafford’s assault was racially motivated, Cannon said he could not speculate on the issue.
“There’s nothing I’m aware of, beyond the obvious speculation we all have given the nature of the situation,” he said.
Stafford was originally booked into the facility Jan. 3, 2015 on charges of providing false information to a police officer, strong armed robbery and first degree assault and battery. Cannon said he believes the assault charges stems from him assault a police officer.
Stafford is being held under a $101,090 bond.
Roof faces the death penalty in upcoming trials in both federal and state courts.
The federal government has charged Roof with hate crimes and other offenses in the shootings. Prosecutors allege Roof talked of starting a race war and posed with the Confederate battle flag before the killings. His federal trial is set for November.
He also faces the death penalty in state court where he is charged with nine counts of murder in a trial set to begin next year.
Defense attorneys have said in both state and federal courts that Roof is willing to plead guilty and serve a life term in prison if prosecutors don’t seek the death penalty.
Roof’s attorneys in the federal case have asked a judge to declare the federal death penalty unconstitutional which they said would clear the way for Roof to plead guilty.
The Associated Press contributed.