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‘Gross medical neglect’ led to inmate’s death from organ failure, SC coroner says

The (Raleigh) News & Observer 3/21/2023 Simone Jasper, The News & Observer (Raleigh)

An inmate suffered “gross medical neglect,” causing him to die from organ failure, a South Carolina coroner said.

Now, almost three months after 28-year-old D’Angelo Brown suffered a medical emergency in the Charleston County jail, his death has been ruled a homicide.

“Our own internal investigation remains under way,” Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano wrote March 20 in a statement. “I have full confidence in my detention staff that concerns over Mr. Brown’s medical treatment and his needs were documented and referrals were made. We are continuing to work with the county through the procurement process to find a different health care provider.”

What happened to Brown?

The case dates to August, when Brown first landed in the Charleston County jail on assault and burglary charges. Brown, who had been diagnosed with “schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” wasn’t given antipsychotic medications and was found with human waste strewn about his cell in the weeks leading up to his death, according to a wrongful death lawsuit.

Then on Dec. 21, deputies doing a security check reported finding Brown, who “appeared to be breathing but unresponsive in a cell.” He was rushed to a hospital but didn’t regain consciousness before he died Dec. 29, according to the lawsuit and the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.

At the time of Brown’s death, deputies said there was “no evidence of foul play.”

But on March 20, the Charleston County Coroner’s Office ruled Brown’s death was a homicide. His cause of death was described in a news release as “E. Coli EAEC sepsis with septic shock and multiple organ system failure due to gross medical neglect.”

EAEC is a type of E. coli bacteria that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said is associated with diarrhea. But some E. coli infections can occur “outside the gastrointestinal tract in humans, namely sepsis (a bacterial infection of the blood),” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Based on the time the coroner dedicated to this case, her ruling on Mr. Brown’s death did not surprise me,” Graziano wrote, adding that her office is cooperating with a criminal investigation from the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

Lawsuit alleges negligence

In the lawsuit filed against the sheriff’s office and Charleston County on March 8, an administrator of Brown’s estate said Brown “was subject to inhumane treatment and deplorable living conditions by the defendants which contributed to his death.” In particular, Charleston County officials contracted with a medical provider that is accused of not providing adequate care as Brown’s condition got worse.

In response to a request for comment about the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Charleston County government said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The sheriff’s office told McClatchy News in an email that the county is accepting proposals for new health care providers, as its current contract expires in June.

“Every detention center resident has the right to adequate medical care,” deputies wrote. “While our staff cannot provide it directly, we are committed to providing access to quality care. We will continue to work with the on-site medical contractor and Charleston County to address concerns about the quality of care provided at the facility.”

“We also have worked with the public defender’s office and the solicitor’s office to increase communication about mental, behavioral and physical health at the detention center. These discussions will continue.”

SLED didn’t immediately respond to McClatchy News’ requests for additional information March 21.

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