A tragic death in county jail

Joyce Curnell (Provided)

Javon Curnell plans to sue the health care company that provides services to the Charleston County jail. A court of law presumably will determine whether the Carolina Center for Occupational Health is to be held responsible for his mother’s death while in custody in July of last year.

But Joyce Curnell’s tragic death while in the Cannon Detention Center should compel everyone involved to pause and consider if more could have been done to prevent it.

Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey has promised to look into what happened and why. Perhaps he should ask how county staff responded to the crisis and if they re-evaluated the county’s contract with CCOH, which provides health care to county employees as well as inmates.

Sheriff Al Cannon said — and a SLED investigation confirmed — that his staff carried out their duties as required regarding Ms. Curnell. That included alerting CCOH about her increasingly ill health. But did they consider calling a second time — or a third — to find out what was taking so long? It reportedly took three and a half hours for a nurse to come.

On July 21, Ms. Curnell was diagnosed at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital with gastroenteritis. Doctors gave her instructions and released her to sheriff’s deputies who drove her to jail because of an outstanding warrant. She owed court fines.

But Ms. Curnell was an alcoholic. Was jail the right place to take her? In the holding area, she vomited repeatedly and said she was weak. Jailers and inmates suspected she was detoxing. There are local medical programs that deal with addictions.

An autopsy report determined that she died from a stomach virus, with her alcoholism and sickle cell disease as contributing factors.

Javon Curnell and others cited in our news reports believe that his mother would likely have survived had she been given fluids to counteract being dehydrated.

Joyce Curnell’s death raises many questions that need answers.

But one thing that does not need to be questioned is this: No one should die as she did in the county jail.