South Carolina Jail Guards Slept While Inmate Hanged Himself, $500K Lawsuit Won
The family of a mentally troubled inmate who hanged himself in the Lancaster County Jail while guards failed to check on him has been paid a $507,500 settlement by the Lancaster County Sheriff’s insurance company, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Columbia, South Carolina this week.
The money was paid to the estate of Randy Stevens, 44, a painter and roofer who had a alcohol problem and was suicidal.
On May 20, 2014, corrections officers at the Lancaster County Jail discovered Stevens hanging by a bed sheet in a private jail cell.
Officers attempted to revive Stevens, but after paramedics arrived, he was pronounced dead on the scene. Stevens had been jailed a day earlier after he was charged with public disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Prior to the arrest, a friend of Stevens had called 911 and claimed that Stevens was suicidal, reports The News & Observer.
The lawsuit alleges, "Instead of placing Stevens in an observational cell where he could be under constant watch, correctional officers put him down a hallway far from the guard station."
Although that isolated cell was under video surveillance during Stevens’ stay, one officer went to sleep at her desk and another left the jail entirely, the lawsuit said.
One guard falsified records, making them incorrectly reflect that guards had made the rounds to check on prisoners when they actually had not, the lawsuit said.
Had the officers monitored the live video of Stevens activity, they would have seen him kneel down, say a prayer and then slowly begin the process of killing himself, according to the lawsuit.
His body was in the cell for three-and-a-half hours before it was discovered, according to the lawsuit.
Two guards were fired as a result of Stevens' death, and others were reprimanded. Yet the sheriff’s department admitted no fault in the $507,500 settlement.
Stevens’ estate, represented by Stevens’ stepfather Bill Laney, agreed not to bring further legal action.
The lawsuit was based on a federal civil rights statute that makes it unlawful for individual law officers to be “unreasonably and deliberately indifferent to a known serious medical condition.”
Although Stevens’ friend told deputies that arrested Stevens that he was suicidal, the deputies failed to tell jail staff about the suicide threats, the lawsuit said.
The settlement was approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges.