Sheriff's office issues statement on death of Charleston inmate

Sheriff's office issues statement on death of Charleston inmate

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The Charleston County Sheriff's Office issued a statement Thursday after being notified of a lawsuit centered on the death of an inmate at the county jail.

The sheriff's office received word a "Notice of Intent to File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit" against Carolina Center for Occupational Health had been filed with the Charleston County Clerk of Court, according Charleston County Sheriff's Maj. Eric Watson.

The suit is being filed, the statement read, on behalf of the estate of Joyce Curnell.

According to its website, the Carolina Center for Occupational Health provides medical care to the inmate-patients at the Al Cannon Detention Center.

Curnell was arrested on July 21, 2015 at Roper Saint Francis Hospital after dispatchers received a tip from Curnell's son that she had an active bench warrant for shoplifting, the statement read.

After being medically cleared for release and discharged from the hospital, deputies transported her to the detention center.

"Per policy, Ms. Curnell received a medical screening and was later assigned to a housing unit. On July 22, 2015, shortly before 5 p.m., members of the Detention Center's staff discovered Joyce Curnell unresponsive in her bed in housing unit B3M. After exhaustive efforts had been made to revive her, Charleston County Emergency Medical Service pronounced Joyce Curnell dead," the statement read.

SLED was called in to conduct an investigation into Curnell's death, a standard practice whenever an incident involves an in-custody death or a use of force resulting in death, Watson said.

According to the lawsuit, a nurse who was responsible for screening Curnell at the detention center was informed of Curnell's medical history, but medical records do not support that a detailed initial assessment, including a complete medical history, was performed by CCOH medical staff.

"Moreover, there is no indication of medical staff following hospital recommendations and symptoms monitoring according to the Roper St. Francis Emergency Room Discharge Instructions," the lawsuit states.

The suit states the nurse contacted a doctor who prescribed medication which lawyers said was "inadequate," and that Curnell should have been evaluated by a licensed physician given her medical history which includes gastroenteritis, electrolytes abnormalities and uncontrolled hypertension.

According to the lawsuit, a detention officer reported that Curnell was unsteady and "trying to keep her balance" when she entered her cell, and complained of her "stomach hurting," and within minutes "she was in the bathroom throwing up."

Another detention officer stated in the suit that Curnell vomited "through the night" and "couldn't make it to the bathroom." Lawyers state that the detention officer provided Curnell with a red trash bag at 1:30 a.m. and contacted a nurse requesting medical assistance. According to the suit, a nurse then informed the detention officer that another nurse would be coming to the cell at 5 a.m. and evaluate Curnell.

Lawyers say in the suit that Curnell continued to vomit through the night.

The suit states at or around 4:45 a.m. a nurse arrived to the unit, and an officer informed the nurse of Curnell's physical appearance and that she had been vomiting through the night.

According to the lawsuit, the failure of staff to provide care to Curnell in a timely manner contributed to her death.

"Despite the fact that medical staff had been informed on at least two occasions of Ms. Curnell's open and obvious medical condition that included 'continued vomiting, increased abdominal pain, weakness, dizziness, drowsiness' as described in the discharge instructions from hospital as indications requiring 'PROMPT ATTENTION,' in complete and total disregard of the Roper St. Francis Hospital Discharge Instructions, the medical staff employed with CCOH refused to provide any medical attention to Ms. Curnell whatsoever. The failure to provide timely medical care to Ms. Curnell was grossly negligent and directly contributed to her untimely death."

"Simply put, Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water," Dr. Maria V. Gibson stated in the affidavit. "She was too sick to tolerate the dehydration as a result of acute gastroenteritis. Had Ms. Curnell been timely evaluated by a medical professional and properly treated for her gastroenteritis and dehydration, her deterioration and ultimate death would have, more likely than not based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, been prevented."

In the sheriff's office statement, the "Intent to File" notice is called a step in the legal process.

"Discussing this matter in this current forum, any further, is inappropriate and unfair to the family of Joyce Curnell," the statement read.

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