South Carolina woman 'deprived of water' dies in jail after arrest on 4-year-old charge

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Joyce Curnell of Edisto Island, S.C., was taken to the hospital on July 21, 2015, and diagnosed with gastroenteritis. Sheriff's deputies were waiting when she was discharged and arrested her on an outstanding bench warrant.

The next day, she was dead in a Charleston County jail.

The Charleston Post-Courier reports the Curnell’s family filed notice on Wednesday to sue the jail's medical contractors, alleging the 50-year-old black woman was denied treatment for gastroenteritis and dehydration, leading to her death. Unless a settlement is reached, Curnell's family intends to sue the Carolina Center for Occupational Health in state and federal court.


"Joyce’s death was not a result of mere negligence, but a conscious, deliberate failure to provide her with the most basic of medical care," family lawyer James B Moore said in a statement.

Curnell was one of five black women who died in jail during July 2015, including Sandra Bland. Like Bland, Curnell was imprisoned over a minor charge and her health issues ignored.

Charleston County court records show Curnell was arrested in October 2011 on a charge of shoplifting, value $2,000 or less. She was sentenced to pay a fine $1,148.90, and put in 21 payments toward the fine between February 2012 and January 2013. When the payments stopped and Curnell didn't respond to letters from the court, a bench warrant was issued for her arrest in August 2014.

That warrant came up last summer when Curnell was admitted to Roper Hospital for her stomach illness. The Post-Courier reports that first Charleston police and then sheriff's deputies were called to arrest her when she was discharged.


Upon arriving at the jail, Curnell was given medication for headache and nausea, but the court filings said the jail's medical contractors did not follow the hospital's treatment instructions for her gastroenteritis. She was put into a housing unit and not the jail's medical facility.

According to the Post-Courier, Curnell repeatedly vomited through the night. She couldn't make it to the bathroom, so the jailers gave her a trash bag. She couldn't eat breakfast the next morning, and while medical personnel checked on her at noon, she was dead three hours later.


A representative of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office would not comment on the filing to the Post-Courier. The State Law Enforcement Division did investigate Curnell's death, but the results of that investigation were not released to the public.

A medical expert hired by the family said in an affidavit that Curnell died of complications from gastroenteritis and that her death could've been prevented with proper medical treatment.


“Simply put, Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water,” the affidavit reads.

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