Justice Department opens civil rights probes into South Carolina jails beset by deaths and violence

Nov 2, 2023, 11:57 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Two South Carolina jails where incarcerated people have died violently at the hands of employees or others held behind bars are under federal investigation, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday.

Officials said the civil rights probes will examine the conditions at detention centers in the southern state’s urban hubs of Charleston and Columbia. They cited the deaths of a mentally ill Black man stunned 10 times by two jail employees who kneeled on his back until he stopped breathing and another man beaten to death by five attackers locked in cells with unsecured doors.

“People confined in local jails across our country do not abandon their civil and constitutional rights at the jailhouse door,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke told reporters Thursday. “Incarceration should never carry with it the risk of death or serious harm.”

Eight people jailed at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center have died since 2022, according to Clarke. Potential discrimination against incarcerated people with psychiatric disabilities, access to medical care, solitary confinement practices and staff use of force are the focus of the investigation into the Charleston County jail.

That’s where Jamal Sutherland had been booked after a fight at the center treating his schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Two deputies repeatedly stunned the 31-year-old man one day later when he refused to leave for a court appearance. Video later showed Sutherland saying “I can’t breathe” while forced to the ground in handcuffs.

A 28-year-old Black man with schizophrenia repeatedly sat in his own feces while left in isolation before his death last year that the local coroner attributed to “gross medical neglect,” The Post & Courier reported.

Clarke reported six known deaths since February 2022 at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia. Investigators will look into whether people there are adequately protected from violence and subjected to dangerous living conditions.

Antonius Randolph, 29, lay dead in his own blood at the Richland County jail for roughly 18 hours just six days after his arrest on charges of sexual assault and robbery. Lason Butler, a 27-year-old Black man who died of dehydration last year, was found with fresh rat bites. He’d reportedly lost 40 pounds (18 kilograms) during the two weeks he spent in a cell lacking running water.

The capital city jail has also recently seen two escapes, one riot, 16 confirmed reports of stabbings or assaults and two alleged rapes, according to Clarke.

Thursday’s announcement followed calls from civil rights attorneys for investigations into the facilities. Butler’s lawyers accused local officials of neglecting a jail they described as a “death trap” in a Thursday news release.

Richland County Administrator Leonardo Brown told reporters Thursday that the council has allocated funding to increase staffing and upgrade facilities. Brown committed to holding individuals responsible for any wrongdoing uncovered and blamed some violence on gang members who continue their “activity” behind bars.

U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs said the decentralized system of detention centers — often run by counties or their sheriffs — makes oversight difficult. Officials do not plan to ask that the jails be placed under federal control.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said she welcomes the investigation and emphasized her support for employees who go “above and beyond” their duty to provide mental health assistance in a statement released Thursday morning. Graziano also called on state officials to help “stop the dumping of the mentally ill in jails.”

ACLU of South Carolina Legal Director Allen Chaney said the announcement should compel officials to reconsider the use of jails as a “catchall solution” for addiction, poverty and homelessness.

“Hopefully the weight of a federal civil rights investigation will make lawmakers evaluate whether their resources might be better invested in programs that reduce drug addiction and homelessness rather than resorting to the harmful, ineffective, and inhumane system of arrest-and-release,” Chaney said in a statement.


Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

United States News

Associated Press

Remains found in Indiana in 1982 identified as those of Wisconsin woman who vanished at age 20

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) — Human remains found in rural Indiana in 1982 have been identified as those of a Wisconsin woman who was 20 when she vanished more than four decades ago, authorities said. The remains are those of Connie Lorraine Christensen, who was from the Madison, Wisconsin-area community of Oregon, said Lauren Ogden, chief […]

29 minutes ago

Associated Press

Judge drops felony charges against ex-elections official in Virginia

MANASSAS, Va. (AP) — A Virginia judge has dismissed felony charges against a former county elections official accused of misconduct in the 2020 election, a decision made after state prosecutors said a key witness changed his story. At the prosecutors’ request, the judge on Friday dismissed a felony charge of corrupt conduct and one for […]

2 hours ago

Philadelphia police officers outside of the Macy's in Center City after reports of an alleged stabb...

Associated Press

Man suspected of shoplifting stabs 2 security guards at Philadelphia store, killing 1

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A man who had tried to steal merchandise from a department store in Philadelphia returned 15 minutes later and stabbed two security guards, killing one and injuring the other, city police said. The attack at the Macy’s store occurred shortly after 11 a.m. Monday. Security guards saw the man attempting to steal […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Treasury creates new strike force as US and China pursue crackdown on illicit fentanyl trafficking

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department on Monday announced a new strike force to help combat illicit fentanyl trafficking as the U.S. and China step up efforts to stop the movement of the powerful opioid and drug-making materials into the U.S. The Counter-Fentanyl Strike Force will bring together personnel and intelligence from throughout the Treasury […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Man suspected of killing 4, including a 1-year-old, at a Dallas home kills self during police chase

DALLAS (AP) — A man suspected of killing four people, including a 1-year-old boy, and injuring a 15-year-old girl in a shooting at a Dallas home fatally shot himself during a chase with law enforcement, police said Monday. Byron Carillo, 21, fled the home after the shooting late Sunday afternoon and then stole a vehicle, […]

4 hours ago

In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Jackson Ligon, 341st Missile Mainten...

Associated Press

The Air Force is expanding a review of cancers for service members who worked with nuclear missiles

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Air Force is expanding its study of whether service members who worked with nuclear missiles have had unusually high rates of cancer after a preliminary review determined that a deeper examination is needed. The initial study was launched in response to reports that many who served are now ill. The Air […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(KTAR News Graphic)...

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

Follow @KTAR923...

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.

Justice Department opens civil rights probes into South Carolina jails beset by deaths and violence