A lawyer says a South Carolina woman died in police custody last year because she was denied a basic necessity: water. Joyce Curnell, 50, was suffering from sickle cell disease, alcoholism, and hypertension, when she went to the emergency room with stomach flu last July. She was treated and released into police custody on July 21 over unpaid court fines, reports the Charleston Post Courier. Even though Curnell was vomiting "within minutes" of arriving at her cell at Charleston County jail, staffers failed to provide her with medical attention as advised by doctors at the hospital, according to court documents filed Wednesday against the jail's medical contractor, Carolina Center for Occupational Health. She was found dead 27 hours later, per the New York Daily News.
A doctor serving as an expert witness for Curnell's family blames the woman’s death on a "series of conscious violations." She says vomiting would have activated Curnell's sickle cell disease, which can make it more difficult to fight dehydration. "Simply put, Ms. Curnell died because she was deprived of water," she says. Court documents say there's no record of jail staffers providing Curnell with water or intravenous fluids. Medical staffers "refused to provide any medical attention to (her) whatsoever" and denied Curnell access to her medication, the court documents allege, reports WCIV. Curnell's death was the result of a "deliberate failure," the lawyer adds. "Providing access to reasonable medical care to those under police custody is a necessity, not a privilege." Curnell is black, and the ACLU says it is monitoring the case. (Read more South Carolina stories.)