Lawsuit Accuses SC Jail of Depriving Woman of Water, Causing Her Death

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Joyce CurnellThe family of a South Carolina woman who died in jail is suing because they say she was deprived of water.

According to The Post-Courier, Joyce Curnell died last year after spending 27 hours in jail.

Curnell, 50, was arrested after being hospitalized for nausea and vomiting. While she was in hospital, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was notified that she had an outstanding warrant for a 2011 shoplifting case. Curnell had been ordered to pay $1,148.90 in fines, but according to court records, she stopped making payments. The Post-Courier said it could not determine how the sheriff’s office learned she was in the emergency room.

She had been suffering from dehydration and gastroenteritis, but was not given adequate fluids by jail staff. The Post-Courier also reported that Curnell couldn’t make it to the bathroom, and was given a trash bag to vomit into.

On Wednesday, her family announced plans to sue Carolina Center for Occupational Health, the company contracted to provide healthcare for the jail. If a settlement is not reached, the next step is filing a lawsuit.

According to court records, jail staff notified their medical team of Curnell’s condition but they, “refused to provide any medical attention to (her) whatsoever.” Even though she couldn’t eat the next morning, Curnell was not provided water or intravenous fluids.

A doctor, who served as an expert witness for Curnell’s family, said the lack of medical attention caused her death.

“Simply put,” said Maria Gibson, a doctor with the Medical University Hospital, “Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water.”

Curnell was one of at least six Black women who died in police custody in July 2015. One of those women was Sandra Bland, who was found hanging in a Texas jail cell after she was arrested for a traffic stop. Bland’s death raised international awareness about the dangerous conditions in American jails.

James Moore III, attorney for the Curnell family, said people under police custody should receive proper medical care.

“Providing access to reasonable medical care to those under police custody is a necessity, not a privilege,” he said. “It is a constitutional right. We are committed to seeking justice for Joyce and for her family.”

Moore said he plans to file suit in both state and federal courts.

Shaundra Scott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, told The Post-Courier the Bill of Rights demands humane treatment of prisoners.

“It is very unfortunate to hear of another death of an African-American while in police custody,” she said. “If Ms. Curnell was denied medical treatment, then it is our position that her constitutional rights were violated.”

According to attorney Scott C. Evans, no one has been disciplined over Curnell’s death.

“Not only has nobody been prosecuted in connection with Joyce’s death, it does not appear that any employee has even been reprimanded,” he said in a statement.

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