Serve and protect?

Woman dies after being “deprived of water” in Charleston County jail

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Joyce Curnell

A 50-year-old woman arrested for failure to pay court fines died in police custody after Charleston, South Carolina, officials failed to provide “reasonable medical care,” lawyers representing her family said this week.

After calling an ambulance with complaints of nausea and vomiting, Joyce Curnell was arrested in the hospital on a bench warrant stemming from failure to pay fines connected to a 2011 shoplifting charge. She died in jail last year on July 22 after having spent 27 hours in custody. Her family claims that she was neglected by jailers after becoming sick during that time, vomiting in a trash bag through the night while staffers ignored requests to tend to her, according to the Post and Courier.

Curnell’s family is suing the Carolina Center for Occupational Health for malpractice, claiming that her death came as a “deliberate failure” that could have been prevented if she was given water and treated for gastroenteritis. (Instead, court documents say medical staff “refused to provide any medical attention to [her] whatsoever,” even though she could not make it to the bathroom.) The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina said it will monitor the case closely.

Maria Gibson, the Medical University Hospital primary care doctor hired as an expert witness for the family, said in an affidavit that Curnell died of complications from her sickness. Coupled with several underlying conditions — including a history of sickle cell disease, high blood pressure and alcoholism — Curnell was just too sick to overcome dehydration without aid, Gibson said.

“Simply put,” Dr. Gibson said, “Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water.”

During that month, she was one of at least six black women to die in law enforcement custody, including Sandra Bland.

Read the full story at the Post and Courier.

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