SPARTANBURG — A 29-year-old man who died last year in the Spartanburg County Detention Center appeared to be ignored in a jail cell for hours before he was found dead the next morning, according to coroner records and the State Law Enforcement Division.
Although Lavell Lane was seen by a nurse when he was booked into jail the night before his death, staff did not recognize his symptoms of neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), a side effect of an anti-psychotic medicine a jail nurse gave him a few days earlier.
Lane was put in a padded cell, where he spent hours shadow-boxing before having seizures. He was found around 4:45 a.m. Oct. 3, according to a county Coroner’s Office investigation. Lane died of NMS, the coroner's office ruled.
According to his family, Lane struggled for years with schizophrenia.
Lane’s family filed a lawsuit April 17 against the county and sheriff’s office, accusing them of negligence by providing inadequate medical care despite knowing about his mental illness. The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The sheriff’s office declined to comment.
“Who was watching him?” asked his mother, Beverly Lane Reese. “If someone is having a psychotic breakdown and they’re on suicide watch, who’s watching him?”
It’s unclear why no one checked on Lane in the five hours he was left alone in his cell. But the jail has been understaffed and overcrowded for years, regularly holding double its rated capacity of 329. A 2022 South Carolina Department of Corrections inspection showed 28 vacancies among jail guards and shift supervisors, meaning just more than a quarter of those staff positions were unfilled.
There were six deaths in the Spartanburg County jail in 2022, making it the deadliest year in almost a decade. No other county jail in South Carolina had more. Sheriff Chuck Wright has said the jail isn’t responsible for the deaths.
So far in 2023, three more people have died there.
Lane had his first psychotic break in 2015, records show. His symptoms worsened in 2016 following his grandmother's death, his sister Andrea Reese said. He thought he was hearing demons. He left Howard University and moved closer to his parents in South Carolina.
Lane was staying at Midway Residential Care Facility on Moore Duncan Highway west of Spartanburg in September when he went to the hospital on two consecutive days after run-ins with other residents. During his second visit on Sept. 28, he was accused of assaulting a patient. Police arrested him.
Sometime before 2 a.m. the next morning, he began banging his head on his cell wall, according to an incident report. A deputy tried to move Lane to a padded cell and used pepper spray when he wouldn’t come out. When Lane rinsed his eyes out with water from the toilet bowl, the deputy pepper sprayed the toilet.
Lane came out of his cell and the deputy took him to the shower area. When he did not comply with the deputy's commands, he was pepper sprayed again and a stun gun was used. Then he was moved to the padded cell.
Shortly before 9 a.m. that morning, a jail nurse injected him with one fast-acting and one slow-acting dose of the anti-psychotic medicine Aristada before he went back to Midway. Lane’s family said he had never received that medication before, and afterward began sweating and complaining of burning sensations.
He went back to the hospital for suicidal ideation and visual hallucinations around 2:20 a.m. Oct. 1 then left that afternoon, according to SLED. He disappeared until someone called the sheriff’s office to report a man on Chesnee Highway the night of Oct. 2. A sheriff’s deputy stopped Lane for walking in the road.
Lane was scared and thought zombies were chasing him, according to the SLED report. He initially ran away, then surrendered with his hands up. He was booked into jail at 10:55 p.m. and put on “suicide watch” because of his behavior during booking, the SLED report said.
He was put first into a regular cell while the padded cell was cleaned, but immediately started hitting his head on the cell wall. Deputies used a stun gun while trying to move Lane to the padded cell. A detention center nurse came to check on Lane around 11:30 p.m. before he was moved. She told SLED she noticed no complaints of pain or signs of distress but was unable to take Lane’s vitals because of his behavior.
Once Lane was in the padded cell, he continued to punch the air, according to the coroner's office investigation. He was sweating profusely and breathing heavily, and his activity decreased through the early morning. Sweating, rapid breathing and an altered mental state are all symptoms of NMS.
“Despite them giving him the drug, they failed to recognize the number one side effect associated with the drug they gave him,” said Christopher Pracht, the family’s attorney.
Citing surveillance footage, the coroner’s office report said that at 1:18 a.m. Oct. 3, Lane fell into a “partially prone” position, with his head and chest down and his legs bent in a “frog leg-like position to the sides.” Between 2:36 and 2:45 a.m., it appeared he was having seizures. Then he stopped moving.
NMS is "a lethal medical condition that requires hospitalization and special care immediately,” Pracht said. “In the critical hours, in the critical moments where Lavell’s life could have been saved, as best I can tell from SLED’s investigation, he was in a padded cell being videotaped dying, and nobody did anything.”
The SLED report makes no mention of anyone checking on him during those hours in the cell. A deputy walked by the cell around 4 a.m. and saw Lane on the floor in a “praying position” but did nothing, the SLED report said.
Lane was found dead 45 minutes later.