By: renee.sexton Renee Sexton December 16, 2019
The family of a South Carolina prison inmate who was killed by another inmate has received $600,000 and a public apology from the South Carolina Department of Corrections after the two sides reached a settlement agreement shortly before they were set to present closing arguments to a Marlboro County jury in a wrongful death trial.
James Moore III and Scott Evans of the Evans Moore Law Firm in Georgetown and Douglas Jennings Jr. and Mason King of the Douglas Jennings Law Firm in Bennettsville report that Oliver Johnson was serving a 10-year sentence at Evans Correctional Institution in Marlboro County when he was beaten and stabbed 23 times by another inmate in 2016 and died.
Johnson’s adoptive father, George Johnson, sued the South Carolina Department of Corrections for his son’s wrongful death. He contended that no SCDC employee intervened or attempted to stop the attack, and at the time of the attack SCDC rules required at least two certified correctional officers within the prison housing unit at all times.
During the three-day trial, inmates and guards who were working at Evans on the day of the attack testified that the incident lasted as long as 15 minutes. Johnson also presented evidence that the incident would have occurred in plain view of the correctional officer in the central control room overlooking four wings of the housing unit, but at the time of the attack there was no officer in the housing unit. (SCDC regulations prevented the corrections officer in the control room from leaving it under any circumstances.)
The suit was filed under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, alleging that the SCDC was grossly negligent in failing to properly supervise, monitor, and staff the prison. The $600,000 that the SCDC agreed to pay is the statutory cap on damages under the SCTCA. The major of security for Evans also provided an apology on the court record and an assurance from SCDC that the department is addressing staffing issues and inmate protection at the prison.
“You can learn a lot about the civilization of a society by the way it treats its prisoners,” Moore said. “It is something that should separate us here in America from those societies that have no human rights, no protections from a constitution, no legal system like ours. We have got to do better in South Carolina. My experience working as a lawyer who handles civil rights cases is that inmates are dying from a lack of basic medical care and a lack of security.”
The attorneys said SCDC has a responsibility to maintain the Constitutional rights of inmates, meet their basic human needs, and keep them safe.
“By pursuing justice in this case, the plaintiff has hopefully made the SCDC more cognizant of safety issues in our prison system and has at least made Evans CI a safer place for staff and inmates,” Jennings said.
The case was tried before Judge Roger Henderson. The defense attorneys’ names are withheld as part of the settlement agreement.
“This was a resolution at trial of a disputed claim. The institution has since made changes to address safety and security concerns arising from this incident,” a statement from SCDC said.
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SETTLEMENT REPORT — WRONGFUL DEATH
- Amount: $600,000 and public apology
- Injuries alleged: Death
- Case name: Estate of Oliver Johnson v. South Carolina Department of Corrections
- Court: Marlboro County Circuit Court
- Case No.: 2016-CP-34-00019
- Judge: Roger Henderson
- Date of settlement: Oct. 3
- Most helpful experts: James Aiken of Asheville, North Carolina (prison security expert)
- Insurance carrier: South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund
- Attorneys for plaintiff: James B. Moore III and Scott C. Evans
Evans Moore, LLC held its third Thanksgiving turkey giveaway last Tuesday. The firm donated 175 turkeys to families in need. The firm teamed up with Helping Hands of Georgetown County.
Evans Moore, LLC began this tradition in 2016, after the area was devastated by flooding. That year, Evans Moore, LLC donated 125 turkeys to the community. Since its initial success, the event has grown to give away more turkeys each year. Evans Moore, LLC hopes to be able to continue this momentum and help even more families enjoy a turkey on Thanksgiving next year.
Turkey giveaways like this happen across the country, and Evans Moore, LLC is happy to give back to the community however we can. Click here for more information about our turkey giveaway.
Today, May 24, 2018, Evans Moore, LLC, along with Rhoad & Rhoad, and the Law Office of Grover Seaton, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Corrections in connection with the Lee Correctional prison riot that took place on April 15, 2018.
According to Mr. Gaskins’ death certificate, Mr. Gaskins died from exsanguination, also known as severe loss of blood, due to multiple stab wounds and sharp force injuries. The Estate of Eddie Gaskins is the first wrongful death lawsuit filed in connection with the prison riot that left seven (7) inmates dead and an additional twenty-two (22) hospitalized. The Lee Correctional prison riot has been classified as the Nation’s deadliest prison riot in a quarter-century.
The pleadings allege that recent incidents within SCDC, including the Lee Correctional prison riot, show a pattern and practice of gross negligence and conscious indifference by the administrators and supervisors at Lee Correctional Institution in properly monitoring the inmates, providing basic medical care, and supervising and training correctional officers among other issues.
Attorney James B. Moore III, one of the attorneys representing the Estate of Eddie Gaskins stated: “What should have been a likely two-year sentence resulted in a death sentence for Eddie. How much blood must be spilled before SCDC adheres to its own rules? Eddie was not just an inmate; he was a son, a brother, and a father to four young children.”
Attorney Scott C. Evans added: “Lee Correctional Institution has a history of serious human rights violations. Ten years ago, SCDC’s own documents implicated Lee Correctional staff in the freezing death of a non-verbal, developmentally disabled inmate who was left without clothing or blankets for 7 days in the winter. Not a single Lee Correctional employee was indicted, fired, reprimanded, or even written up in connection with that inmate’s death. This continuing pattern of blatant disregard for basic safety and human rights has no place in the modern world.”
Evans Moore, LLC anticipates the filing of a separate lawsuit in Federal Court for the violations of Mr. Gaskin’s civil rights once discovery progresses and the pending investigatory reports are released.
For the third consecutive year, trial attorneys Scott C. Evans and James “Boo” Moore III of Evans Moore, LLC were recognized as 2018 Super Lawyer’s “Rising Stars,” a list of the top up-and-coming lawyers in South Carolina.
These lists are compiled to help people searching for attorneys to find the “best of the best” in their area. Each year, no more than 2.5 percent of the lawyers in the state receive this honor. The annual service selections are made using a rigorous, multi-phased process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates, and peer-reviews by practice areas.
The Georgetown lawyers of Evans Moore, LLC took an opportunity to give back to the community by donating turkeys to families in need this Thanksgiving. The turkeys were delivered on Monday, November 20th.
Attorneys James B. Moore III and Scott Evans have decided to make the turkey giveaway an annual event, to continue helping the community as well as connect with Georgetown residents. The firm gave away 150 turkeys this year, and hope the event grows to help even more families next year.
For the second consecutive year, trial attorneys Scott C. Evans and James “Boo” Moore III of Evans Moore, LLC were recognized as 2017 Super Lawyer’s “Rising Stars,” a list of the top up-and-coming lawyers in South Carolina.
Super Lawyers is a Thomas Reuters rating service that ranks outstanding lawyers in more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Each year, no more than 2.5 percent of the lawyers in the state receive this honor. The annual service selections are made using a rigorous, multi-phased process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates, and peer-reviews by practice areas.
Today Evans Moore, LLC filed a Notice of Intent to File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit on behalf of the Estate of Joyce Curnell, a 50-year-old African American female of Edisto Island, South Carolina who was found dead at the Charleston County Detention Center on July 22, 2015. Ms. Curnell is one of at least six (6) African American women found “unresponsive” while in police custody during the month of July, 2015 in the United States.
According to the Autopsy Report, Ms. Curnell died as a result of complications of gastroenteritis – most commonly referred to as the stomach flu. In the affidavit of physician Maria Gibson filed simultaneously with the Notice of Intent, Dr. Gibson states, “Simply put, Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water. She was too sick to tolerate the dehydration as a result of acute gastroenteritis. Had Ms. Curnell been timely evaluated by a medical professional and properly treated for her gastroenteritis and dehydration, her deterioration and ultimate death would have, more likely than not based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, been prevented.”
The pleadings allege that Ms. Curnell arrived via ambulance to the emergency room at Roper St. Francis Hospital on July 21, 2015 with complaints of nausea and vomiting. While at Roper St. Francis Hospital, Ms. Curnell was diagnosed with gastroenteritis. The pleadings further allege that Ms. Curnell also suffered from sickle cell traits, a common medical illness that causes an abnormal hemoglobin level in the red blood cells. While most people with sickle cell traits do not experience any symptoms or complications, they are known to be more vulnerable to dehydration. The Plaintiff alleges the medical staff at Roper St. Francis Hospital recognized that she was more susceptible to dehydration and properly provided Mrs. Curnell with IV hydration and prescribed her to Zofran to prevent the nausea and vomiting.
During the course of her two-hour hospitalization, it was determined Ms. Curnell had an outstanding bench warrant in connection with a 2011 misdemeanor shoplifting charge. Immediately thereafter, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office responded while Ms. Curnell was still a patient at Roper St. Francis Hospital and placed her under arrest. She was transported directly from the Roper St. Francis Hospital emergency room to the Charleston County Detention Center for booking at 2:30 p.m.
The pleadings allege that Carolina Center for Occupational Health, the private medical group that has a contract with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office to provide all medical care to detainees at the Charleston County Detention Center, failed to provide Ms. Curnell with timely and proper access to medical treatment. For example, the pleadings allege Ms. Curnell did not have access to the medications as prescribed by medical staff at Roper St. Francis Hospital; did not receive a proper medical examination; and that the medical staff ignored multiple requests by detention center staff to examine Ms. Curnell and provide her with medical treatment. During the twenty-seven (27) hours that Ms. Curnell was detained at the Charleston County Detention Center, multiple witnesses – including detention center staff – reported to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division that she was continuously vomiting and reported to be “too weak” to make it to the bathroom or submit a “sick call request.” Despite Ms. Curnell’s physical appearance as described by detention center staff and other inmates, there are no records supporting that Ms. Curnell was properly monitored or examined by staff, and there are no records or statements to support that she was offered oral hydration or IV hydration to prevent dehydration.
According to a Charleston County Sheriff’s Office incident report, Ms. Curnell was last observed by detention center staff on 2:12 p.m. and was found “unresponsive” at 5:00 p.m.
Attorney James B. Moore III, one of the attorneys representing the Estate of Joyce Curnell stated, “It is incomprehensible that in the year 2015, in the United States of America, we have members of our community suffering and dying from thirst and dehydration. 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. Providing access to reasonable medical care to those under police custody is a necessity, not a privilege. It is a Constitutional right. We are committed to seeking justice for Joyce and for her family.”
Attorney Scott C. Evans added: “This is not a situation in which Joyce needed access to cutting edge medical care to save her life. She needed fluids and the attention of a doctor. Not only has nobody been prosecuted in connection with Joyce’s death, it does not appear that any employee has even been reprimanded.”
South Carolina law requires that any party seeking to file a lawsuit alleging medical negligence must first file a “Notice of Intent to File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit” with the Court in which the case will be heard. The Notice of Intent and supporting expert affidavit is filed in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas.
On June 25, 2015, the attorneys of Evans Moore, Scott Evans and James “Boo” Moore, were interviewed for an upcoming documentary produced by non-profit Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc., which highlights the crisis facing the mentally ill in South Carolina’s state prison system.
Evans Moore were approached for this interview due to their successful track record of litigating civil cases on behalf of individuals and their families who have needlessly suffered from neglect, abuse, and mistreatment within the South Carolina Department of Corrections. During this interview, Scott and James engage in candid discussions regarding the effects of the deficit of mental health services within our State’s prison system on the lives of inmates, their families, and its impact on the citizens of our great state.
The documentary, slated for release in fall 2016, will also bring light to Circuit Judge Michael Baxley’s recent ruling in the class action lawsuit filed against the Department of Corrections, T.R., P.R., K.W., et al. v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, et al.
The class action suit, filed in June 2005 by Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. on behalf of inmates with serious mental health needs, alleges inadequate mental health treatment for prisoners held statewide by the S.C. Department of Corrections. The lawsuit did not seek financial damages; rather, it charged the court with requiring the department to design and maintain a program that provides adequate treatment of inmates with mental illness.
In his Order dated January 8, 2014, Judge Baxley opined that this case was the “most troubling” of the 70,000 cases to come before him in the past 14 years. “The evidence in this case has proved that inmates have died in the South Carolina Department of Corrections for lack of basic mental health care, and hundreds more remain substantially at risk for serious physical injury, mental decompensation, and profound, permanent mental illness. As a society, and as citizen jurors and judges make decisions that send people to prison, we have the reasonable expectation that those in prison – even though it is prison – will have their basic health needs met by the state that imprisons them. And this includes mental health. The evidence in this case has shown that expectation to be misplaced in many instances,” Baxley wrote.
South Carolina houses some 23,000 inmates, with more than 3,000 inmates with serious mental illness diagnoses (SCDC data as of June 30, 2011).
The Judge noted that providing mental health services to inmates has significance beyond the prison walls. “What happens at the Department of Corrections impacts all of us, whether it is from the discharge of untreated seriously mentally ill individuals from prison into the general population, or tremendously increased costs for treatment and care that might have been prevented, or the needless increase in human suffering when use of force replaces medical care. The decisions of our Courts reflect the values of our society. To that end, our state can no longer tolerate a mental health system at the South Carolina Department of Corrections that has broken down due to lack of finances and focus,” he wrote.
The Judge’s order requires the corrections department to remedy constitutional violations by submitting a remedial plan within six months to include: development of screening and mental health treatment programs; a plan to employ sufficient mental health professionals; a plan to maintain treatment records and administer psychotropic medication with appropriate supervision and periodic evaluation; and a program to identify, treat, and supervise inmates at risk for suicide.
For more information on cases handled by Evans Moore, the Protection and Advocacy Class Action, and a copy of the Order, please visit http://www.mentalhealth4inmates.org.