A South Carolina woman convicted of stealing $20 worth of beer and candy bars from a convenience store was “deprived of water” and died in jail last summer due to profuse vomiting after checking into a hospital where she was then hauled off to jail over unpaid fines related to that 2011 arrest.
Joyce Curnell, 50, had been seeking urgent medical care for a stomach flu when it was discovered she had a bench warrant for her arrest because she had stopped making payments towards her $1,148.90 fine.
She was found dead in her cell on July 22, 2015 after being held for 27 hours without water or medical attention.
Now her family is suing.
On Thursday, family attorney Evans Moore filed a lawsuit against the Charleston County Detention Center for negligence. On Wednesday, Moore filed a notice of intent to sue the detention center’s medical provider, Carolina Center for Occupational Health, for malpractice.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) completed its investigation into Curnell’s death and found no wrongdoing against the jailers “due to the manner of death being classified as natural.”
However, surveillance video does exist that has not been released, according to the family’s lawyers.
The Curnell family retained counsel quickly who sent “Do Not Destroy” letters to the county facility to preserve the videos.
Curnell suffered from a host of manageable conditions and alcoholism, but jailers left her acute gastroenteritis untreated.
It’s unconscionable that jailers ignore the medical needs of any suspect in custody, especially in the case of Curnell, who went to the hospital for medical treatment, and wound up taken in on a warrant for unpaid fines on a shoplifting conviction.
Curnell had a payment plan, but fell behind in 2014 leading to issuance of a bench warrant for her arrest.
It would become Curnell’s death warrant.
Sadly, Curnell’s family tipped local law enforcement about her whereabouts in a vain attempt to get treatment for the disease of alcoholism from which she suffered.
Her family assumed that being held in a detention center for a few days would help Curnell dry out, but their faith in the correctional power of a detention center was sadly misplaced, according to family attorneys.
When dehydration set in, she became one of six African-American women to perish in jail in July 2015.
That same July, Sandra Bland had died in a Texas jail just nine days earlier that month, but her passing drew far more publicity because of the violent arrest video showing Texas Trooper Brian Encinia escalating a minor traffic stop into the tragedy of her later death in prison, then caught lying about it in the police cruiser’s dash cam and subsequent report.
But Waller County jail isn’t just losing the lives of African-American women in its jail. Bland’s cousin shared stories about white men who also perished under mysterious circumstances in the rural jail run by Sheriff Glenn Smith who was fired for making racist remarks while leading a local city’s police department near Prairie View A&M University, but later elected by Waller County voters to his current job overseeing county law enforcement and its jail too.
Similarly, this past winter, events leading to Barbara Dawson‘s death in outside North Florida hospital was recorded after officers forcibly evicted the 57-year-old from her hospital room as she protested loudly.
Dawson died from a blood clot which had traveled into her lungs, known as a pulmonary embolism. For comparison’s sake, it is the same condition Miami Heat basketball star Chris Bosh and is easily treated with blood thinning medications once properly diagnosed.
The family retained civil rights lawyers Parks and Crump – who also represent Corey Jones who died at the hands of a Palm Beach Gardens police officer – to explore their options about bringing suit against police that incident.
North Florida taxpayers too will face the music for their deupties’ callous disregard of the delicate nature of medical emergencies.
Those tragedies caused by court debt or bills are entirely avoidable in many cases, and nobody in America should die because they can’t pay a medical bill, especially long after the service was provided.
Also in 2015, Virginia woman Natasha McKenna also died at the hands of jailers while suffering mental health problems in an incident recorded by Arlington County Sheriffs, which PINAC reported last September in a video you can see below.
Sickeningly, McKenna’s captors told her that, “We are your friends” before shocking her multiple times with a Taser weapon, including after she was already in a restraining chair.
The officers failed to monitor her vital signs after the seven men finished thoroughly strapping the 5 foot, 3 inch tall woman to a gurney and by the time they figured out McKenna wasn’t breathing it took nearly two minutes just to start CPR.
By then it was too late, more than ten minutes had elapsed from the time McKenna had likely stopped breathing, until officers were able to start life saving efforts and she fell into a coma and died shortly thereafter.
It took seven long months to convince authorities to hand over the video of Natasha McKenna shot from inside the jail, and they only did so after clearing all officers involved in the gruesome 50 minute video.
Curnell family lawyers are still fighting to obtain release of all of the video documentation which Charleston’s jails hopefully maintained.
Jailers regularly withhold these vital pieces of evidence from families in hopes of deterring or deferring legal actions and making it more difficult to prosecute individuals for callously ignoring jailed citizens.
The case of Michael Robinson, who died from insulin shock in the small town Pemiscott Jail, near Saint Louis, Missouri over the summer is sadly all too common for those arrested on petty offenses and denied medical care. Shamefully, Robinson was placed under arrest for falling behind on child support payments (coincidentally, the same reason Walter Scott elected to flee Michael Slager in North Charleston) and then left to die as his family begged to deliver life saving medicine to the young father of three, who like Bland was being held without bail at the time.
On Friday, August 14th, our family member Michael Robinson was arrested on a warrant for delinquent child support, and was taken into custody on no bond. He was a severe Type 1 diabetic and needed 2 or more insulin shots a day to regulate his glucose levels. He informed the authorities of this and they ignored him. By the next evening Michael was life-threateningly ill and in dire need of medical attention, he begged and pleaded and the jailers accused him of faking to try to get out to jail. His girlfriend came to visit him. They had propped him up in a chair before she got there. He could barely lift his own head, and didn’t recognize her. One of the other inmates told her that he was very sick and that she needed to get him help. She begged and begged, with great emotion for them to get Michael medical attention. He was clearly, visibly ill. They said they would not and that if he were ill he’d have to sign something for medical attention. But he was already too sick to do so. Michael’s girlfriend called his sister who called up to the jail and begged and pleaded for them to get him medical care. They denied the request. After much negotiation they agreed to let the girlfriend go to his home to get his medication and bring it to him. But this is against regulations so when she got back she was denied the opportunity to give Michael his insulin. Witnesses say that at 3am that night he was screaming and begging for help so loud that the other inmates began to yell and beg the jailers to help him. Instead, we are told, they secured him in a chair, hosed him down with water, then threw him in solitary hold. We are mortified by this account of our Michael left in a dark hold, with no one to hear him cry out, no one to hear his last words, or his last breath. Sunday he went into a diabetic coma and died. Hospital and examiners say he was already dead long before he got there, and that his blood sugar level was 2500, which is 1800 above the deadly level of 700.
Missouri jail officials have conceded that a video of the circumstances leading to Robinson’s death does exist, but they refuse to release it.
South Carolina’s local coverage has focused on the cost to taxpayers, ignoring the human cost incurred when law abiding families think that corrections facilities will act to preserve life, rather than callously take it.
The Curnell family faces an uphill battle in their fight for justice, as jailers are sure to argue in court that the middle aged woman’s health situation was her cause of death, rather than their lack of medical attention while she was in crisis.
Sadly, the 2011 shoplifting case was Curnell’s only brush with the law, but ultimately, it proved fatal.