Woman Arrested In Hospital Bed For Court Fees, Dies In Custody For Being ‘Deprived Of Water’


The family of the late 50-year-old Joyce Curnell, of Edisto Island, South Carolina, filed notice for a pending lawsuit against the Carolina Center for Occupational Health, Wednesday, according to the family’s attorney, for malpractice leading to Curnell’s death on July 22 of last summer—a mere nine days after Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell.

Like Bland, Curnell was being detained for a minor infraction. Whereas Bland was allegedly pulled over for a minor traffic violation, Churnell was arrested at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital over failure to pay court fines. In the middle of seeking treatment for a stomach illness, she was arrested and hauled away to the Charleston County jail. She was found dead the next day just before 5 p.m.

Medical University Hospital primary care doctor and “expert witness” hired on behalf of the family, Maria Gibson, states in an affidavit:

‘Simply put, Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water.’

In Gibson’s view, a “series of conscious violations” had occurred that led to Curnell’s death. Her level of dehydration, courtesy of the Charleston County jail’s negligence, was further compounded by the stomach illness she had been at the hospital seeking care for when she was arrested over petty fines.

As the Post and Courier reports:

‘She spent the last 27 hours of her life behind bars. During that time she became too sick to eat or call for help… She vomited all night and couldn’t make it to a bathroom, so jailers gave her a trash bag.’

Also according to the Post and Courier, medical staffers present at the jail allegedly ignored jail officials’ pleas to tend to Curnell. Court documents claim they “refused to provide any medical attention to [her] whatsoever.”

Family attorney James Moore III called Curnell’s death a “deliberate failure” in a released statement. He is currently planning a battle in the state court, but believes a suit in federal court is certainly not out of the question. Moore said:

‘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 Joyce and for her family.’

The Post and Courier reports Curnell’s death was “one of at least six such women nationwide to die in law enforcement custody that month,” alone.

Executive director of South Carolina’s American Civil Liberties Union, Shaundra Scott, says state law ensures medical care for inmates when necessary. She underlined the strength of that right by pointing to the Bill of Rights, which is supposed to guarantee humane treatment to all and bar any form of cruel and unusual punishment. Scott stated:

‘It is very unfortunate to hear of another death of an African-American while in police custody. If Ms. Curnell was denied medical treatment, then it is our position that her constitutional rights were violated.

Scott also said the ACLU would be watching the case, as it develops.

50-year-old Joyce Curnell, who “had a history of sickle cell disease, high blood pressure and alcoholism,” took an ambulance to the hospital July 21, 2015, for “gastroenteritis, an irritation of the stomach and intestines,” where she was arrested for an August 2014 warrant for failing to pay a court fine of $1,148.90 stemming from a 2011 shoplifting case. She died within 24 hours of detainment because the system couldn’t bother itself to provide her with water in her medical condition—water paid for by taxpayers, no less.

As to who tipped off the police that Curnell had a warrant and was currently at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital at the time of her arrest, no one’s talking. Maj. Eric Watson of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office simply said he couldn’t find the proper documentation showing how local authorities discovered Curnell at the hospital. Just give him time to find it, right?

In the meantime, a “March for Joyce Curnell” is already being planned for Friday morning.

You can read further shameful details of Curnell’s arrest and detainment, here.

Image via March for Joyce Curnell Facebook page.