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Black woman dies of thirst after she was dragged out of SC hospital to jail over unpaid court fines

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A South Carolina woman died 27 hours after she was hauled out of a hospital and taken to jail over unpaid court fines — and her family said she was denied water and medical care.

Joyce Curnell was found dead in her cell July 22, one day after she was arrested at Roper Hospital, where she had been treated for a stomach illness, and taken to the Charleston County Jail, reported The Post and Courier.

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The 50-year-old Curnell became too ill to eat or call for help, according to court documents filed this week as part of a planned lawsuit.

Curnell had been taken by ambulance to Roper Hospital from her Edisto Island home after complaining of nausea and vomiting, and she was diagnosed with gastroenteritis in the emergency room.

A bench warrant was discovered at some point during her hospital stay, and someone alerted law enforcement officers.

Curnell had been placed on a payment plan in April 2012 to pay $1,148.90 in fines related to a shoplifting case, but she apparently quit paying the following January and a warrant was issued in August 2014.

The newspaper reported Thursday afternoon that Curnell’s son, who is planning the lawsuit, notified law enforcement of the open warrant.

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However, the newspaper did not report whether Javon Curnell was asked about his mother’s criminal background — or why.

A local doctor told Curnell’s family that her death could likely have been prevented if she had been properly treated for dehydration and the irritation of her stomach and intestines.

“Simply put: Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water,” said Dr. Maria Gibson, of Medical University Hospital.

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Her family filed a notice to sue the jail’s medical contractor, Carolina Center for Occupational Health, for malpractice — claiming medical staffers ignored requests by jail officials to help Curnell.

Court documents show Curnell was placed in a housing unit, instead of being taken to the jail’s medical facility, and she was given a trash bag to vomit into because she was too weak to visit the restroom.

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No records show Curnell was given water or intravenous fluids the following morning, when she was too ill to eat breakfast.

State law requires medical care for inmates who need it, and the Bill of Rights demands humane treatment of incarcerated prisoners.

“It is very unfortunate to hear of another death of an African-American while in police custody,” said Shaundra Scott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina. “If Ms. Curnell was denied medical treatment, then it is our position that her constitutional rights were violated.”

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Watch this video report posted online by WCBD-TV:

Edit: Additional details reported about how law enforcement discovered the open warrant.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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