Joyce Curnell was arrested at a South Carolina hospital last summer for failing to pay court fines and thrown in the Charleston County jail. A day later, she was dead. According to lawyers for her family, Curnell’s death was brought on because she was “deprived of water” by the jail’s medical providers.
The Post and Courier gives more details about her death:
Around noon on July 21, Curnell was taken from Edisto Island by ambulance to the hospital as she complained of nausea and vomiting. She was diagnosed in the emergency room with gastroenteritis, an irritation of the stomach and intestines.
At some point at the hospital, it was discovered that she had a bench warrant in a 2011 shoplifting case. She had been put on a payment plan in April 2012 to cover $1,148.90 in fines related to the charge, according to court records, but she quit paying the following January. After she didn’t respond to a letter from the court, the warrant was issued in August 2014.
No one could tell The Post and Courier how law enforcement got word of the warrant as she lay in the hospital last summer.
The Charleston Police Department was first summoned there, but officers later called deputies from the Sheriff’s Office. Watson said he could not immediately find documentation about how the authorities learned of Curnell’s charge.
The family’s attorney also said he was looking for that explanation.
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.
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 hospital 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.
James Moore II, an attorney for Curnell’s family, filed notice that his clients intend to sue the jail’s medical contractor, claiming a “deliberate failure” led to Curnell’s death.
“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.”
A doctor hired as an expert witness said Curnell would have likely survived had she received proper care and hydration. Curnell’s family is suing Carolina Center for Occupational Health for malpractice, and if a settlement isn’t reached, the suit will be adjudicated during a trial.