When Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell last July, her story fueled protests against police violence and conversations about the invisible plight of black women in the criminal justice system. But there were at least four other black women who died in jail that month.
One of them was Joyce Curnell, who was arrested for unpaid court fines. Now, seven months after her body was found, her family is taking legal action against the jail’s medical contractor. They say Curnell died from water deprivation.
The Post and Courier reports that a notice filed Wednesday blames Charleston County jail’s healthcare provider for leaving Curnell dehydrated and failing to treat her serious stomach problems. Her death came a day after she was brought to an emergency room for vomiting and nausea, where she was diagnosed with gastroenteritis.
During that visit, an unidentified person learned that there was a warrant for Curnell’s arrest. She hadn’t paid off court fines from a 2011 shoplifting incident. So the local Sheriff’s Office was contacted and authorities brought the patient to Charleston County Detention Center. The family alleges that doctors informed officials about Curnell’s condition, gave them a prescription, and told them how to care for the patient if her condition persisted.
Jail workers say Curnell remained extremely sick in the jail and medical staff neglected their duty to treat her. They say Curnell continued vomiting, reported having a headache, and had to relieve herself in a trash bag because she was unable to walk to the bathroom. They also allege medical staff — contractors from Carolina Center for Occupational Health (CCOH) — were alerted but didn’t respond, although an incident report from the Sheriff’s Office claimed that members of the medical team did monitor Curnell a few hours before she was found dead.
The notice filed by the family claims Curnell wasn’t given fluids that could’ve saved her life, according to a doctor’s opinion. The family may file a lawsuit if settlement appears unlikely.
“Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water,” Doctor Maria Gibson of the Medical University Hospital said, pointing to “a series of conscious violations.”
Those types of deadly mistakes aren’t unique. Medical neglect is all too common in prisons and jails across the country.
In January, 28 hours after entering a Kentucky detention center, a 16-year-old black teen was found dead in her cell. Video shows that the employee charged with monitoring Gynna McMillen every 15 minutes failed to do so. And when McMillen was unresponsive during the times she was checked on, the employee didn’t ensure that she was fine. McMillen was found dead when someone came to get her for a court hearing.
Staff waited nine minutes to call 911 and 11 minutes before attempting CPR.