On July 22, a day after she was arrested for failing to pay court fines, Joyce Curnell was found at a Charleston County jail because “she was deprived of water,” a new suit filed by her family alleges.
Ms Curnell, 50, of Edisto Island, South Carolina, was being treated for a stomach illness at Roper Hospital when she was arrested on an outstanding bench warrant for shoplifting in 2011. The next day, detention officers found Curnell unresponsive, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
She spent the last 27 hours of her life behind bars. During that time she became too sick to eat or call for help, according to court documents filed this week. She vomited all night and couldn’t make it to a bathroom, so jailers gave her a trash bag. Some medical staffers ignored the jail officials’ requests to tend to her, the documents alleged.
Curnell’s family filed a notice Wednesday to sue the jail’s medical contractor, Carolina Center for Occupational Health, for malpractice. Unless a settlement is reached, a lawsuit likely will follow. The filing cited expert opinion from a local doctor, who said Curnell’s death “more likely than not” would have been prevented if she had been properly treated for gastroenteritis and dehydration.
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.
In an affidavit, Maria Gibson, the Medical University Hospital doctor serving as an expert witness for the Curnell family, blames “a series of conscious violations.”
Curnell had been on a payment plan since April 2012 to cover the $1,148.90 in fines related to the 2011 shoplifting charge, but she stopped paying the following January. A bench warrant was issued in August 2014, after she did not respond to a letter from the court.
“It is incomprehensible that in the year 2015, in the United States of America we have members of our community suffering and dying from thirst and dehydration,” said Curnell’s attorney James Moore in a statement released Wednesday, “Providing access to reasonable medical care to those under police custody is a necessity, not a privilege. It is a Constitutional right.”