Charleston Co. Council asks Dept. of Justice to investigate county jail

Letter alleges ‘lack of transparency and leadership’ at detention center
In a letter calling for the investigation, Charleston County Council alleged a "lack of transparency and leadership" at the county jail.
Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 5:10 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 28, 2023 at 8:07 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Four members of Charleston County Council have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to begin an investigation into the Al Cannon Detention Center.

In a letter sent to the agency Tuesday, Chairman Herbert Sass, Vice Chair Jenny Costa Honeycutt and members Teddie Pryor and Brantley Moody asked the department to take a closer look at the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office’s detention operations “in response to several troubling and traffic deaths” at the jail in the past two years.

The letter notes that since the beginning of this year, one inmate death has been ruled a homicide by the Charleston County Coroner.

“The coroner’s report indicates a reckless lack of proper medical care, some of which was documented by the detention center,” the letter states.

Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal ruled the death of D’Angelo Brown on Dec. 29 a homicide and listed the cause of death as sepsis with septic shock and multiple organ system failure from a powerful strain of E coli known as Enteroaggregative Escherichia coli. O’Neal said the disease was the result of “gross medical neglect.”

“We recognize that both detention and health care staffing face ongoing challenges nationwide but providing competent medial care and oversight must remain a primary and priority function,” the letter states. “The members of Charleston County Council have shown that we are committed to providing the necessary funding and support to Sheriff [Kristin] Graziano’s Detention Center operations. Unfortunately, there is a lack of transparency and leadership that necessitates this request to the Civil Rights Division in order to ensure qualified Detention Center leadership and medical providers are in place to end this cycle of tragedy and adequate operational procedures exist.”

The four end the letter urging the department to investigate “to protect those housed there from ongoing and future harm and better serve residents of Charleston County as a whole.”

Sheriff Kristin Graziano released a statement Tuesday evening.

“The allegation that we have been anything but transparent is categorically false. Councilman Pryor and all members of council were invited to review thorough documentation of our concerns that we made to the county contracts office over the past year. They did not take us up on our offer,” Graziano said. ““It is disappointing that some county council members, as well as other elected officials, are only curious when it is politically opportunistic.”

The letter was sent one day after U.S. First District Congresswoman Nancy Mace toured the facility along with Sass and Pryor. Cameras were not allowed to be present during Mace’s tour of the facility.

But after that tour, Mace said one of her concerns was mental health for inmates, adding that 40 to 50 percent of the people housed in the facility have mental issues.

“For some of these cases, they shouldn’t be in the jail, they should be where they’re getting better care for the mental health issues that they’re facing. There’s some people in this facility that cannot physically take care of themselves,” Mace said. “And this is not a mental health hospital. That’s an issue.”

Mace also said the state mental health hospital only has 300 beds making it especially hard for the detention deputies while the center is looking to fill around 100 staffing positions. To combat the staffing shortage at the detention center, the county raised pay to $46,000 and hired 12 new employees since the beginning of the year.

“This is one of the toughest jobs in America right now. And because of the mental health issues, we’re seeing it exponentially increase over the last year since COVID,” Mace said. “It’s only getting worse and our deputies, they’re not, that’s not their job, they’re not trained for that.”

“I stand behind the work of my employees. They are the hardest-working people in this county. The work that they do keeps us all safe,” Graziano said in the statement. “I will be the first person to welcome any member of the Department of Justice to my facility, and I believe that we are going above and beyond our call of duty to provide assistance on mental health concerns. I also invite the elected officials of South Carolina to do their job and do their part to stop the dumping of the mentally ill in jails.”

Attorneys James B. Moore III and Scott Evans, who represent Brown’s family, claimed he 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.

After Brown’s death, Rep. Marvin Pendarvis called on the Department of Justice to investigate the death of Julian Jenkins, 50, whose cause of death has not been determined. Pendarvis represents Jenkins’ family. He died on March 13 after being in the medical ward at the Charleston County Jail since he was booked earlier this month.