A 50-year-old woman died while in police custody because she was “deprived of water.”
On July 22, 2015, Joyce Curnell was found dead at the Charleston County Jail. She had been taken to prison the day prior while she was still a patient at Roper St. Francis hospital. Curnell is one of at least six Black women who died while in police custody in July 2015.
According to a statement by Evans Moore Law, during the two hours in which Curnell was receiving medical attention, it was determined that she had an outstanding bench warrant due to a misdemeanor shoplifting charge in 2011. Curnell was taken directly from the emergency room to the prison on July 21, 2015.
While she was in police custody, she was constantly vomiting and considered to be “too weak” to go to the bathroom or submit a “sick call request.” She was reportedly denied the medication that was given to her at the hospital and did not receive a proper medical examination.
Police then had her stay in the jail's housing unit instead of its medical facility, The Post and Courier reports. Prison staff reportedly gave her garbage bags to vomit into, and medical staffers ignored requests to attend to her. No records indicate that she had been offered water or intravenous fluids during this time.
“Had Ms. Curnell been timely evaluated by a medical professional and properly treated for her gastroenteritis and dehydration, her deterioration and ultimate death would have, more likely than not based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, been prevented,” Dr. Maria Gibson wrote in an affidavit, according to the Evan Moore Law statement.
Shaundra Scott, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, said state law, as well as the Bill of Rights, requires that the incarcerated receive medical care and humane treatment.
“It is very unfortunate to hear of another death of an African-American while in police custody,” Scott told The Post and Courier. “If Ms. Curnell was denied medical treatment, then it is our position that her constitutional rights were violated.”
While at the hospital, Curnell had been diagnosed with gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flue. She also had a history of high blood pressure and sickle cell traits and was therefore more susceptible to dehydration.
On Feb. 24, Curnell's family filed a notice to sue the jail's medical contractor, Carolina Center for Occupational Health, for malpractice.
“Joyce’s death was not a result of mere negligence, but a conscious, deliberate failure to provide her with the most basic of medical care,” Attorney James B. Moore III, one of the attorneys who will be representing Curnell's estate, said in Evan Moore Law's press release.