Federal authorities have launched civil investigations into two jails in South Carolina, after receiving reports that multiple inmates died at each detention center in recent years from various forms of mistreatment, unsafe living conditions or a combination of both, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday.
The department’s civil rights division launched separate probes at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston and the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia after reviewing credible allegations. The Charleston jail had “credible allegations that incarcerated persons have died from use of force, gross medical neglect or suicide, and the jail in Columbia had allegations that the facility was “structurally unsafe and that there have been sexual assaults, homicides and prevalent violence resulting in serious injuries,” the news statement said.
The jails now under investigation are individually funded and operated by the counties in which they are located — Charleston County for the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center, and Richland County for the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center — which are two of the largest counties in South Carolina. The Charleston jail is run by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and the Columbia jail is run by the county via a director, according to the Justice Department.
At the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center, the federal investigation will focus on the jail’s use of isolation and use of force as well as its medical and mental health care, relatedly looking into whether the sheriff’s office in Charleston discriminates against inmates with disabilities. At the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, the investigation will focus on the inmates’ living conditions and evaluate whether the jail fails to protect them from violence while they are incarcerated.
“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,” said Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, in a statement.
Clarke discussed the investigations at at a news conference Thursday afternoon, where she said since 2022 there have been eight deaths among inmates at the Charleston jail and six known deaths among inmates at the Columbia jail.
At the latter jail, one incarcerated person died from dehydration, with a coroner ruling the death a homicide, and another incarcerated person “was killed brutally by other incarcerated people after the detention center failed to secure cell doors,” Clarke said. The Justice Department received reports that the bodies of deceased inmates at the Columbia jail were not found for significant periods after their deaths.
The department is also looking to confirm reports of at least 16 stabbings inside the Columbia jail, two escapes, two alleged rapes, and reports that nine inmates were injured in violent incidents at the detention center in May and June alone.
“The physical conditions at the detention center are also troubling with reports of mold and vermin,” Clarke said of the Columbia jail.
She also detailed the circumstances surrounding two inmates’ deaths at the Charleston jail, saying that in January 2021, an inmate named 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, adding that Charleston Sheriff Kristin Graziano acknowledged after the fact “that the detention center does not have enough mental health providers,” while a use of force expert for the county prosecutor “found that Mr. Sutherland’s death was preventable.”
Later, in December 2022, an inmate suffering from severe mental illness at the Sheriff Al Cannon Jail, D’Angelo Brown, “died after spending months in isolation in the detention center’s mental health unit,” Clarke said. Medical staff at the jail allegedly failed to give Brown his proper psychiatric medications, causing him to deteriorate.
“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,” Clarke said. “The county coroner has attributed Mr. Brown’s death to gross medical neglect and ruled his death a homicide.”
Sheriff Graziano released a statement Thursday afternoon in response to the Justice Department’s announcement, saying in part, “The allegation that we have been anything but transparent is categorically false.” Graziano initially shared the same statement earlier this year, when county officials requested that the Justice Department investigate conditions at the local jail, CBS affiliate WCSC-TV reported.
The Justice Department is coordinating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for South Carolina to conduct their investigations, and officials in both Charleston and Richland counties have already agreed to cooperate as the probes get underway, the department said.