Federal officials are investigating the two largest county detention centers in South Carolina amidst a surge in deaths and allegations of civil rights violations. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced investigations into conditions at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston and the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia at a press conference on Thursday (November 2, 2023).
“People confined in local jails across our country do not abandon their civil and constitutional rights at the jailhouse door,” said Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general with DOJ’s civil rights division. “We are launching these investigations to determine whether the jail conditions in two of South Carolina’s largest counties comply with basic constitutional standards. We are committed to ensuring that people held inside jails and prisons are not subjected to excessive force, violent conditions, inadequate medical and mental health care, and other dangerous physical conditions while in the custody of their local government.”
The DOJ investigation comes eight months after attorneys Bakari Sellers and Alexandra “Ally” Benevento of the Columbia, S.C.-based Strom Law firm sent a letter to the agency imploring its civil rights division to investigate “subhuman conditions” and “an ingrained culture of violating civil rights of detainees” at the the Alvin S. Glenn detention center (a.k.a. “The Glenn”).
Their letter (.pdf) accused jail staff of “facilitating, participating in, or failing to intervene in (violent) attacks,” and of having “routinely not provided (inmates) with the most basic necessities required under state and federal law, including running water, adequate medical care, bathing opportunities, or clean clothing and bedding.”
This media outlet has covered issues at both detention centers extensively. Five weeks ago, we published an editorial saying federal and state officials “must intervene” in the crisis.
“The Alvin S. Glenn detention center has become the equivalent of a radioactive ‘exclusion zone,'” our editorial noted.
DOJ investigators will be working with prosecutors in the office of U.S. attorney Adair Ford Boroughs to investigate problems ranging from unsanitary conditions – like mold and vermin – to the prevalence of violence, the improper use of force by guards and lack of access to medical and mental health care.
“Our office is committed to protecting the constitutional rights and ensuring the safety of all people in South Carolina, including those being detained or incarcerated in county detention centers,” Boroughs said. “We look forward to working with the Civil Rights Division to ensure the safety of those housed in these facilities.”
Within the past week at “The Glenn,” one inmate was found dead of unknown causes and another was stabbed.
Last year, 27-year-old Lason Butler died while in the custody of the facility. His family issued a statement in response to the announcement from DOJ.
“For too long, the officials at Richland County have turned a blind eye to the violence and neglect infesting Alvin S. Glenn,” Butler’s family said. “They have ignored this death trap and the cries of victims while the cost in lives and suffering continues to rise. It’s disgraceful, it’s inexcusable and it’s downright criminal.”
RELATED | SOUTH CAROLINA DETENTION CENTER CRISIS
In Charleston County, detainee D’Angelo Brown died of enteroaggregative escherichia (EAEC) coli sepsis with septic shock and “multiple organ system failure” on December 22, 2022. In other words, an untreated bacterial infection in Brown’s digestive system caused his body to shut down over a period of several weeks.
Charleston County coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal attributed Brown’s death to “gross medical neglect” – and classified it as a homicide.
The Charleston county facility – which is run by county sheriff Kristin Graziano – houses as many as 1,693 detainees. Since last year, eight deaths have been reported.
The Richland county facility – which is run by the county independent of the sheriff’s office – houses as many as 1,116 detainees. Since last year, six deaths have been reported.
At a press conference held on Thursday afternoon in response to the DOJ investigation, Richland County attorney Patrick Wright said he welcomed an impartial inquiry – however he expressed frustration over “misrepresentations and untruths” related to allegations of sexual assault at “The Glenn.” According to Wright, an investigation into those allegations by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) was closed for lack of credible information.
That statement has not been verified, however. In fact, sources familiar with the situation tell this media outlet Wright’s statement is inaccurate. Stay tuned for an update on that situation …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
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