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Calls grow for federal probe of South Carolina jails after inmate death

An inmate died of medical neglect after languishing for months in a filthy jail cell. A federal investigation could explain why conditions are deteriorating at the state's jails, a lawmaker says.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — A South Carolina representative is calling for a federal investigation after a mentally ill inmate died from medical neglect while languishing in a filthy jail cell.

D’Angelo Dontrel Brown was found unconscious Dec. 19, 2022, in a cell smeared with feces and urine at the Charleston County jail, according to a lawsuit filed recently by his family. The 28-year-old Black man died 10 days later from multiple organ system failure caused by E. coli septic shock.

Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal announced this week Brown’s death was the result of a homicide caused by “gross medical neglect.”

Brown, who was arrested on assault-related charges in August, had for months shown signs of deteriorating physical and mental health while detained in South Carolina’s largest jail, according to the lawsuit.

He told a jail guard four days after he was booked that he needed medications he took for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the lawsuit states, but they were never provided. On Sept. 2, a jail guard reported Brown was nude, agitated and refusing meals. Days later his cell was “filled with water, urine and feces.”

Brown was transported to the hospital Sept. 11 and his agitation “significantly improved” after he was prescribed several medications, the complaint states. He was discharged back to the detention center Sept. 29, where again his health deteriorated.

Doctors conducted a virtual competency evaluation on the man Dec. 14. They observed Brown covered in feces and rocking back and forth in his cell, according to the lawsuit.

A circuit court judge found the defendant incompetent to stand trial two days later, but he remained at the jail waiting for an available psychiatric bed at a state hospital, The Post and Courier reported.

Brown’s mother filed the lawsuit March 8 against Charleston County and the sheriff’s office alleging negligence and wrongful death. The family’s attorney, James Moore III, did not respond to a request for comment.

Brown's death comes two years after the county paid $10 million to settle claims brought by the family of 31-year-old Jamal Sutherland, a mentally ill man who died after jail guards used stun guns, pepper spray and physical force to roust him from his jail cell.

Sutherland’s death led to multiple protests in Charleston and calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue civil rights charges against the involved deputies.

Federal officials declined to become involved in the case at that time, but South Carolina Representative Marvin Pendarvis said in an interview Thursday he believes a federal investigation is looming for the jail.

“I received a call from a member of our congressional delegation, so this isn’t something that we’re looking at just at the state,” the Charleston Democrat said. “Some of our federal officials are looking at it and concerned about it.”

Pendarvis is representing the family of Julian Jenkins. The 50-year-old Summerville man died March 14 after being booked into the jail on a bench warrant in a 3-year-old shoplifting case.

The cause of Jenkins’ death remains under investigation, Pendarvis said, but his client was a diabetic who needed dialysis and medication. An incident report revealed there was no doctor on site when Jenkins was found unconscious in the jail’s medical unit, according to The Post and Courier.

Pendarvis said it was not just a local problem. The detention centers in Richland and Spartanburg counties have been under scrutiny amid rising concerns about understaffing, overcrowding and dangerously lax oversight.

A DOJ investigation would help explain why conditions are deteriorating at the state’s jails, Pendarvis said.

“We also want to know about what reforms can be put in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano has said she is working with the county to replace the jail’s medical provider, Wellpath, a for-profit correctional healthcare company based in Nashville, Tennessee.

The sheriff has also asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate the deaths.

“We respect the investigative process and the value of an independent inquiry, which is why we notify SLED of in-custody deaths,” Graziano said in a statement. “It’s also why we requested a SLED investigation into the death of D’Angelo Brown. We have fully cooperated with such investigations and will continue to do so.”

Categories: Civil Rights Government Regional

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