Lawyers blame ‘systemic failure’ for Charleston County inmate’s death

Lawyers who represent the family of an inmate who died late last year at the Charleston County jail say the coroner took a rare, but integral step this week.
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 5:37 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 21, 2023 at 11:29 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Lawyers who represent the family of an inmate who died late last year at the Charleston County jail say the coroner took a rare, but integral step this week.

The Charleston County Coroner’s Office ruled the death of 28-year-old D’Angelo Brown a homicide. Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal said Brown died on Dec. 29 from Enteroaggregative Escherichia coli sepsis with septic shock and multiple organ system failure because of “gross medical neglect.”

Attorneys James B. Moore III and Scott Evans say they are no strangers to wrongful death lawsuits. But they say the coroner’s ruling in this case will allow them to hold those responsible for Brown’s death accountable.

They say Brown was held at the Al Cannon Detention Center for 125 days last year in a solitary cell in the facility’s Behavioral Management Unit. They say the sheer length of the deterioration that Brown suffered highlights a failure on the systemic level.

They claim there were multiple missed opportunities to intervene by detention staff and that Brown’s death was 100% preventable.

The Evans Moore Law Firm filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Charleston County and the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. No less than a dozen times, court documents allege Brown’s body and surroundings were covered in his own excrement. The lawsuit alleges he was denied medication to treat his mental health issues,

Moore says that it wasn’t just tragic the way Brown died but also how his mother and family now have to live knowing the way he spent his last few months alive.

“How could somebody see a human being in that state and do nothing about it? I don’t think she’ll get an answer to that question and those are the things that are causing her a lot of pain and grief,” Moore said. “Again, that this wasn’t just one person who didn’t do her job, this was multiple people who saw her son in this condition.”

The attorneys say the family hopes changes will be made to prevent something like this from ever happening again. That includes finding a different medical provider than Wellpath LLC, the current medical provider.

The county signed an agreement with Wellpath in the middle of the pandemic.

A state of emergency empowered Charleston County Administrator Bill Tuten with the authority to sign off on the initial contract on May 27, 2020.

A previous Live 5 Investigation revealed that by that point in time, the company had already been facing several lawsuits and blamed for at least 70 inmate deaths.

The contract was renewed four additional times, all signed off by Charleston County procurement director Barrett Tolbert.

During the first renewal of the contract, the services were expanded to include psychiatric care.

According to the contract, the county has the right to terminate the contract early if that would be “in the best interests” for the County, among other reasons, at no detriment.

Evans says this goes beyond one company, it’s the newer system of contracted medical providers in government-run facilities.

“What can unintentionally happen is that this dichotomy of the deputies versus the nurses gets set up which is not a good thing to have in a correctional environment. It is a dangerous environment. It is very tough work. It’s tough on the correctional thought it’s tough on the medical side,” Evans said. “Having that US versus them with the nursing versus the deputies can be a real problem. We’ve seen that with some of the prior medical providers right here in Charleston County. And apparently we’re seeing it now with Wellpath.”

The Sheriff’s Office would not answer specific questions about the contract and refused an interview request.

Wellpath has also not responded to requests for comment.

In a statement released late Monday afternoon after the coroner’s report was released, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said her agency is cooperating with a State Law Enforcement Division investigation and that an internal investigation is also underway.

“I have full confidence in my Detention staff that concerns over Mr. Brown’s medical treatment and his needs were documented and referrals were made,” Graziano said. “We are continuing to work with the county through the procurement process to find a different health care provider.”

Moore responded to the Sheriff’s comments on Tuesday.

“Yes, his condition was documented. And to me that makes it worse it was documented time and time and time again yet. There was no intervention. And as empathetic human beings when you see somebody suffering and dying. You don’t just document it you take action,” he said.

Wellpath is currently contracted to continue providing medical services at the jail until late June.

The county in the process of searching for a replacement and there have reportedly been three applicants so far.