A lawyer representing a man who committed suicide after he was stabbed during the 2018 riot at Lee Correctional Institute is suing prison officials for wrongful death.
Attorney Paul Swearingen filed the federal lawsuit as the special administrator of Keishawn Omar McManus, who died earlier this year as a result of suicide. He filed the lawsuit against on the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), SCDC director Bryan Stirling, Perry Correctional Institute Warden Charles Williams Jr., Lee Correctional Institution warden Aaron Joyner on April 15.
This is the second recent lawsuit that we know of in which an inmate injured in the 2018 Lee riot is claiming emotional damages from the event.
McManus was transferred to Lee (located in Bishopville, South Carolina) in 2018 while serving a 41-year sentence for two counts of manslaughter in Lancaster County.
On April 15, 2018, a riot broke out and McManus was stabbed seven to ten times, the lawsuit said. McManus was “brutally attacked, stabbed, and left to bleed to death” in the riot.
According to the lawsuit, all cell doors in the dorm unit were left unlocked and open,” and correctional guards and staff had abandoned the housing unit for seven hours.
“McManus had no protection or means to seek medical care for his injuries,” the lawsuit said.
The rioting inmates then chased McManus out of his dorm area, “where they forced (him) and several other inmates to scale the chain-link fence to avoid further attack.”
“Once on the rec yard, (McManus) was forced to remain outside (in full view of correctional staff who could be seen looking outside from the safety of one of the buildings),” the lawsuit said.
Seven inmates died during the riots that lasted nearly seven hours. At least 22 other men were injured in the riots.
After he was attacked, McManus stayed outside “among the critically injured and dead waiting for help to arrive” because there was no staff in the dorm or in the yard, the lawsuit said.
McManus was “forced to bleed and suffer alone for hours” before he was moved to the medical facility at the prison, but days later was transferred to the hospital.
He suffered physical and emotional injury from the attack including “permanent scarring, limited mobility, pain, paranoia, fear, and nightmares.”
In May 2019, McManus was transferred to Perry (located in Pelzer, South Carolina) where he was “immediately confined to lockdown whereby he was confined to 8-feet by 8-feet cell for 23 hours per day,” the lawsuit said. He was supposed to get out to exercise one hour a day, but that didn’t always happen, the lawsuit alleged.
At both Lee and Perry, McManus told staff members about his medical problems (including sickle cell disease) and mental health distress. He told his mental health counselor that he would end his life if he couldn’t get help, the lawsuit said.
The counselor, known as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, “ignored” his condition and told him she would check up on him the next day. McManus hung himself that evening on Jan. 31, 2020. He was 27 years old.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is still investigating the incident, the lawsuit said.
The corrections officer, “John Doe”, in charge of McManus’ unit electronically recorded that he checked on the cell that night, but “failed to see (McManus) hanging lifeless in his cell for many hours,” the lawsuit said.
John Doe falsified records that showed he checked on McManus when he didn’t, the lawsuit alleged.
Claims against prison officials
The lawsuit claims McManus’ death is one of many preventable deaths and injuries that have happened under SCDC officials’ watch.
“After this incident and based on numerous other incidents just like it, SCDC will fail to perform a proper investigation into the incidents in question,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit claims the riot could have been prevented with proper action from SCDC officials. It said McManus suffered emotional damages from the riot that were never treated — and ultimately led to his suicide.
The lawsuit claims that “the warden and administrators at Lee Correctional Institution failed to provide the adequate and/or properly trained correctional staff within the facility” and the prison officials should have known this would lead to “unsafe conditions” for inmates.
According to the lawsuit, SCDC officials “transported several hundred competing gang members from McCormick Correctional Institution to Lee Correctional Institution shortly before the deadly attacks, exacerbating the already dangerous environment within the institution.”
Before the 2018 Lee riot, “it was well-known to SCDC that a
large percentage of the inmate population within Lee Correctional Institution carried and/or had access to weapons and other contraband—including shanks, large knives and axes—to inflict physical harm,” the lawsuit said.
After the riot, the lawsuit said that SCDC officials failed to treat McManus for his sickle cell disease “which caused him excruciating and unbearable pain to the point of determining that death was better than life.”
When McManus was at Perry, officials failed to recognize him as an inmate who would harm himself and failed to give him proper healthcare for mental and physical treatment, therefore violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights, the lawsuit said.
Columbia attorney Paul Reeves and Winnsboro attorney Creighton Coleman are representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit. McManus’ mother filed a petition to be appointed as her son’s representative, but is still waiting for approval. Swearingen is his court-appointed representative.
In recent years, the SCDC has been rocked by surging violence in its facilities, and with that, lawsuits too.
According to a (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier investigative analysis looking at 2013-2018 data, South Carolina prisons settle more than 100 claims a year with inmates. However, inmates are unlikely to receive any money from the claims. Each year, between 7 and 30 percent of the inmates who filed complaints were awarded money.
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