In a deadly incident reminiscent of Sandra Bland's death, 50-year old Charleston resident Joyce Curnell, a black woman, died in her cell at the Charleston County jail, after allegedly being denied water.
Curnell was at the hospital for gastroenteritis in July of last year when she was arrested on a bench warrant issued in August of 2014 after she stopped making payments on fines issued on a 2011 shoplifting case. Her family does not know, and the police aren't saying, how they became aware that she was at the hospital.
Curnell was hydrated at the hospital, given medications and told to seek prompt medical attention if she continued to experience pain and vomiting. On top of her illness, she had a history of sickle cell disease, high blood pressure and alcoholism.She spent the last 27 hours of her life in the jail, because of five-year-old fines totaling $1,148.90.
Doctors discharged her from the hospital with instructions. The deputies then took her to the jail around 2:30 p.m. It was her only arrest in South Carolina, according to a SLED background check.
A nurse at the jail who examined Curnell when she got there later told SLED that she was complaining only of a headache, this week's court filings stated. A doctor prescribed medication for the headache and nausea, but the documents alleged that the staffers didn't follow the Roper doctor's recommendations.
Instead of staying in the jail's medical facility, Curnell was taken to a housing unit. Jail officers reported later that she vomited "through the night" and "couldn't make it to the bathroom," the documents stated. They gave her a trash bag.
The jailers said they informed the medical staff of Curnell's condition, but the experts "refused to provide any medical attention to (her) whatsoever," the court documents stated.
She couldn't eat breakfast the next morning. No records indicated that she was given water or intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, the filings added.
A sheriff's incident report stated that the medical staff checked her around 2 p.m., but within three hours, she was dead.
And she died because the people in charge of her care neglected her and refused to give her water.
The staff of the jail where Curnell was detained did not just have an ethical obligation to take care of her; they had a legal obligation to do so, too.
The family attorney, James Moore III, said in a statement that her death resulted from a "deliberate failure." While a suit in state court is planned, Moore said one in federal court could follow.Leaving a woman who is slowly dying from dehydration to sit in a cell with a garbage bag is tantamount to torture. And all because of a fucking fine that was less than the cost of a pair of designer shoes.
"Providing access to reasonable medical care to those under police custody is a necessity, not a privilege," he said. "It is a constitutional right. We are committed to seeking justice for Joyce and for her family."
...State law requires officials to render medical care when inmates need it, said Shaundra Scott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina. The Bill of Rights, she said, also demands humane treatment of those incarcerated.
The ACLU plans to monitor the case closely, Scott said.
"It is very unfortunate to hear of another death of an African-American while in police custody," she said. "If Ms. Curnell was denied medical treatment, then it is our position that her constitutional rights were violated."
This is the Two Americas: Some people are so wealthy that shoes have to be priced at $1,000+ just to make them feel like they're actually spending money. More than half of people in the US have less than $1,000 in their checking and savings accounts combined. Which can cost them their lives.
But it isn't just classism that killed Curnell. The people who assumed charge of her care when they arrested her at the hospital clearly saw an older black woman and substituted all the racist, misogynist, and agist stereotypes for her actual humanity. Almost certainly, she was treated like a hysteric, a "drama queen," attention-seeking, and disposable—instead of an ill human being who desperately needed help.
My sincerest condolences to Curnell's family, friends, and community. I am so sorry and so angry.