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Lawsuit alleges medical staff responsible for death of inmate at detention center

Joyce Curnell (Photo Source: Al Cannon Detention Center) Joyce Curnell (Photo Source: Al Cannon Detention Center)
CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) -

A lawsuit alleges that medical staff at the Charleston County detention center are to blame for the death of a female inmate.

Lawyers representing the estate of Joyce Curnell filed a lawsuit against Carolina Center for Occupational Health in reference to Curnell's death last summer at the jail. 

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. 

The lawsuit states 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 say 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. to evaluate Curnell. 

Lawyers say 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."

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.

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