SC

‘The DJJ Failed Him’: Family Seeks Answers After Teenager Dies In State Custody

“Everything is so raw right now …”

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How did an aspiring makeup artist commit suicide within a heavily surveilled infirmary of the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ)? While an investigation is underway, agency insiders are calling it an abhorrent failure of public servants who have yet to contact his grieving mother.

On December 6, 2023, the family of Easley Benjamin Jeffcoat watched as medical professionals discontinued his life support following a suicide attempt within SCDJJ’s Willow Lane infirmary. The purportedly nonviolent offender was pronounced dead within the afternoon.

“He did not censor himself based on other people’s judgments,” said one of Jeffcoat’s relatives who spoke with FITSNews on condition of anonymity. “He was a member of the LGBTQ+ community and he was proud of his sexuality. He was always giving his mother unsolicited makeup advice.”

According to multiple sources, Jeffcoat was on the seventh day of confinement when he attempted suicide among state clinicians and infirmary personnel. At the time of the incident, DJJ was supposedly heeding the teenager’s history of mental illness which included clinical depression.

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“This was a last resort situation,” continued his anonymous relative. “They were assessing him and trying to find the best place to accommodate to his mental and physical health needs. [DJJ] was not going to place him in general population.”

On this point, an anonymous DJJ source told FITSNews there was no reason to recommit the 16-year-old to an evaluation center as he was already administered five weeks of psychiatric assessments during a visit to the campus this summer.

“I know more than I want to know,” the source continued on condition of anonymity. “If the first evaluation was done right, then all the information about his mental illness and medications and suicidal ideations should have been known to the state.”

While it remains unclear as to whether Jeffcoat was placed on suicide watch within the infirmary, his final acts are nonetheless coming into focus.

“He went into the restroom and found a plastic bag,” the source said. “He put it over his head and he suffocated. We believe that he was missing for an hour before they found him.”

According to DJJ, Jeffcoat was located at approximately 10:30 p.m. EST and administered CPR by a registered nurse until EMS arrived. He was transported to Prisma Health Richland Hospital where he was embraced by his single mother and her parents.

Paradoxically, a correctional officer stood over Jeffcoat’s family during their final hours with the unresponsive teenager. He died in the intensive care unit two days after his emergency admission. 

“Having the guard present … was a constant reminder that DJJ could send someone to watch over him there, but somehow failed to look out for him within their custody,” noted a relative present for Jeffcoat’s passing. 

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But how did the state agency respond to its first fatality since 2014?

“This is a heartbreaking day, and we send our prayers and condolences to the youth’s family and loved ones,” DJJ executive director L. Eden Hendrick said in a syndicated statement. “DJJ is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all youth entrusted to our care, and we will continue to fully investigate this tragic incident.”

S.C. governor Henry McMaster appointed Hendrick to lead this embattled agency after dozens of correctional officers and teachers walked off their jobs in protest of reprehensible working conditions on June 4, 2021.

Our outlet has since reported on two juvenile-led riots within DJJ’s Broad River Road Complex (BRRC) which may explain why the agency requested $30 million for a new detention center this year — unrelated to its $30 million request for employee retainment.

“Everything is so raw right now,” concluded Jeffcoat’s relative who — as of this publishing — insists that DJJ has not contacted the family to offer condolences or explanation for his passing. “When I say nothing has been given to us, I mean nothing has been given to us.”

Instead, a DJJ spokesperson reportedly contacted Jeffcoat’s mother to say her son’s attempted suicide was “leaked” to the media.

The S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) confirmed its agents were asked to investigate the tragedy within hours of its occurrence. Count on FITSNews to keep you updated on the latest developments in that inquiry.

Jeffcoat’s visitation and service is scheduled for Tuesday, December 12, 2023 within his hometown of Sandy Run in Calhoun County. In lieu of flowers, his family is encouraging donations to Yew Belong — a West Columbia, S.C.-based nonprofit that provides what it refers to as “affirmative clinically supervised services.”

As is our custom in reporting on stories involving suicides, if anyone reading this post is dealing with issues that have them questioning whether to take their own life (or harm themselves), please – call a friend.  You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK. Or just text/ call 988 (more info here).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Andrew Fancher (Travis Bell)

Andrew Fancher is a Lone Star Emmy award-winning journalist from Dallas, Texas. Cut from a bloodline of outlaws and lawmen alike, he was the first of his family to graduate college which was accomplished with honors. Got a story idea or news tip for Andy? Email him directly and connect with him socially across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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3 comments

Nancy Bryson Top fan December 12, 2023 at 12:37 pm

Thanks for keeping us “adept” on latest developments.

Reply
Claire Nettles December 13, 2023 at 11:06 am

This tragedy could have been avoided if appropriate protocols were in place and were followed . Documentation of all the services that should have been provided and should be available . Someone needs to ask about a program that was created to address the needs of vulnerable juveniles at DJJ calledThe Special Support Unit , sadly this program was never implemented .

Reply
Reader Top fan December 23, 2023 at 2:51 pm

Prayers and condolences to this family.

Reply

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