Yesterday, the family of Joyce Curnell said they planned to sue the medical contractors of the jail she died in for failing to give her proper medical care. Why was she in jail in the first place? Twenty-dollars-worth of four-year-old beer and candy.
The Charleston Post and Courier reports the 50-year-old South Carolina woman stole items worth about $20 from a neighborhood convenience store in 2011. Outstanding fines from that offense led to the bench warrant for her July 2015 arrest.
Court records show that Curnell was charged with "Shoplifting, value $2,000 or less," which is technically true, and signed up for a payment plan to pay the $2,193.90 fine.
The Post and Courier reports Curnell struggled to pay this fine, working seasonal jobs on her native Edisto Island, S.C. She cleaned houses and deveined shrimp at seafood restaurants while living in a mobile home. Sometimes she paid as little as $25 toward the fine, and records show that after January 2013, she stopped paying it altogether, leaving $1,148.90 of the fine unpaid.
That was how Curnell found herself last summer going from the hospital with gastroenteritis to a Charleston County jail cell, as a bench warrant had been issued for her arrest despite having paid more than 50 times the value of her original shoplifting offense. And that arrest ultimately led to her death a day later.
Curnell's case has been linked to four other black women who died in jail cells in July 2015, including Sandra Bland. The recent announcement that her family would sue has brought it more attention. About 50 people turned up for a rally for Curnell today in Charleston, according to the Post and Courier.