U.S. Justice Dept. to investigate Charleston, Richland Co. jails

Charleston Co. Sheriff releases response on investigation
Published: Nov. 2, 2023 at 12:26 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 2, 2023 at 8:40 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (WCSC) - The U.S Department of Justice announced it will conduct civil rights investigations after multiple inmate deaths at jails in Charleston and Richland Counties.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced the investigations at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

“People confined in local jails across our country do not abandon their civil and constitutional rights at the jailhouse door,” Clarke said. “We are launching these investigations to determine whether the jail conditions in two of South Carolina’s largest counties comply with basic constitutional standards. We are committed to ensuring that people held inside jails and prisons are not subjected to excessive force, violent conditions, inadequate medical and mental health care, and other dangerous physical conditions while in the custody of their local government.”

The investigation of the Al Cannon Detention Center will focus on access to medical and mental health care, the use of solitary confinement and the use of force by staff, Clarke said. It will also examine whether the detention center discriminates against incarcerated people with psychiatric disabilities, she said.

The investigation into the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center will examine whether the jail failing to protect incarcerated people from violence and subjects incarcerated people to dangerous living conditions at the jail.

“Based on an extensive review of information that is publicly available or that we have received from stakeholders, we find significant justification to open these investigations now,” Clarke said.

She cited the deaths of two inmates at the Al Cannon Detention Center: Jamal Sutherland and DeAngelo Brown.

“In January of 2021, Jamal Sutherland died after Detention Center staff tased and pepper-sprayed him multiple times when he refused to leave his cell for a bond hearing. Staff dragged him to a restraint chair and placed him in a spit hood until he became unresponsive,” Clarke said. “Following Mr. Sutherland’s tragic death, Sheriff [Kristin] Graziano acknowledged that the detention center does not have enough mental health providers. Additionally, a use of force expert for the county prosecutor found that Mr. Sutherland’s death was preventable.”

SPECIAL SECTION: Jamal Sutherland Death

“In December of 2022, DeAngelo Brown, an individual with serious mental illness, died after spending months in isolation in the detention center’s mental health unit,” Clarke said. “Medical staff allegedly failed to administer prescribed psychiatric medications, causing Mr. Brown to deep decompensate severely. Mr. Brown was subsequently deemed not mentally competent to stand trial due to psychosis. psychosis, and he remained at the detention center reportedly in the same neglectful conditions until staff found him unconscious in his cell. He tragically died eight days later at an outside hospital. The county coroner has attributed Mr. Brown’s death to gross medical neglect and ruled his death a homicide.”

Clarke said there have been eight deaths at the Al Cannon Detention Center since 2022. She said there have been six known deaths at the Richland County Detention Center since February of 2022.

“We will conduct extensive site visits at facilities, and we’re approaching these investigations with a great sense of urgency,” she said. “We understand and appreciate that lives may be at stake.”

Sheriff releases statement on DOJ investigation

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano re-released a statement she issued in March when members of Charleston County Council requested a DOJ investigation into conditions at the jail earlier this year:

I stand by the statement that I made back in March 2023 and I will say it again:

“The allegation that we have been anything but transparent is categorically false. Councilman Pryor and all members of council were invited to review thorough documentation of our concerns that we made to the county contracts office over the past year. They did not take us up on our offer.

“It is disappointing that some county council members, as well as other elected officials, are only curious when it is politically opportunistic.

“I stand behind the work of my employees. They are the hardest-working people in this county. The work that they do keeps us all safe. I will be the first person to welcome any member of the Department of Justice to my facility, and I believe that we are going above and beyond our call of duty to provide assistance on mental health concerns. I also invite the elected officials of South Carolina to do their job and do their part to stop the dumping of the mentally ill in jails.”

I welcome the announcement of the DOJ investigation. Any member of the public – including those same elected officials who called for the investigation – is always welcome to ask questions and to come see the great work we are doing at the Charleston County Detention Center.”

The Sheriff Al Cannon Detention center is operated by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center is operated by the County through a Director.

Clarke said the Justice Department could not specify a timeline on how long the investigation was expected to take but said any violations found would be made public.

Before this announcement, officials from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for South Carolina notified Charleston and Richland County officials, and officials in both counties have pledged to cooperate with the investigation, the Justice Department said in a news release.

Reactions to DOJ investigation

State Representative Wendell Gilliard says the action by the DOJ is long overdue.

“When we have one fatality, that’s one too many,” Gilliard says. “When we look at the mental health care treatment, we want to make sure these people are being treated fairly and getting access to this kind of treatment.”

On behalf of Brown’s family, the Evans Moore Law Firm released a statement following the announcement:

On March 27, 2023, we submitted a request to the Department of Justice urging it to investigate the death of D’Angelo among 7 other individuals who died at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center over the last 26 months.   To say that the family of D’Angelo is relieved to learn that the circumstances of his death warrant a thorough investigation by the Justice Department would be an understatement.  They finally feel heard.

It is incomprehensible that in the year 2023, here in Charleston, we have vulnerable members of our community suffering and dying from neglect. Providing access to reasonable medical care to those under police custody is a necessity, not a privilege. It is a Constitutional right.  We are committed to seeking justice for D’Angelo and for his family and certainly have the full support of the Justice Department.

The South Carolina Department of Corrections released additional information about the investigations in both Columbia and Charleston. Part of the statement says:

The issues brought forward in Charleston County are not structural but involve allegations about medical treatment, use of force and discrimination. The jail inspection standards do not require review of how these areas perform.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-South Carolina), who toured the detention center in March and was one of the lawmakers who contacted the Department of Justice, released a statement after the announcement of the investigations:

As we stated in March when we wrote to the DOJ, it is imperative we ensure the fair and humane treatment of all individuals within our correctional facilities. These DOJ investigations will bring much-needed transparency and accountability to our justice system, shedding light on any potential violations of civil rights and enabling us to implement necessary reforms. We remain committed to working towards a criminal justice system which upholds the principles of justice and safeguards the dignity and well-being of all.

Charleston County Councilman Herbert Sass was one of four council members who requested an investigation back in March. He released the following statement after the announcement:

We look forward to the Department of Justice’s review of the Charleston County Detention Center to ensure best practices and the highest level of care is provided to those housed. We will cooperate fully with the Department of Justice as they complete their review.

Anyone with relevant information are encouraged to contact the department about the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center via phone at 888-473-4059 or by email at Community.Cannon@usdoj.gov and the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center via phone at 888-473-3201 or by email at Community.Glenn@usdoj.gov.

WATCH THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE DISCUSS THE INVESTIGATION BELOW

The U.S Department of Justice announced it will conduct civil rights investigations after multiple inmate deaths at jails in Charleston and Richland Counties.