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U.S. Justice Department investigates two SC jails

Aerial view of Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston
Charleston County Sheriff's Office
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Provided
Aerial view of Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating two South Carolina jails for possible civil rights violations following a string of deaths in Charleston and Richland Counties.

“Based on an extensive review of information that is publicly available or that we have received from stakeholders, we find significant justification to open these investigations now,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said Thursday during a virtual press conference.

The department’s civil rights division cites eight recent deaths at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston and six at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia.

“I’ve held the hands of family members who have had to bury their loved ones,” South Carolina U.S. Attorney Adair Boroughs said during the call. “I’ve spoken with law enforcement who don’t feel safe upon entering these spaces.”

Boroughs says she’s also heard from community members who are concerned the civil rights of those detained, many awaiting trial, have been violated.

“Today I say, ‘we hear you’,” Boroughs said.

In North Charleston, federal authorities say they’re looking into medical and mental health care, the use of force and solitary confinement, as well as discrimination against inmates with psychiatric disabilities. They spoke specifically about the deaths of two inmates at the Al Cannon Detention Center, Jamal Sutherland and D’Angelo Dontrel Brown.

Sutherland, a mentally ill man, died at the jail after repeatedly being shocked and pepper sprayed. Body camera video of white deputies jolting the 31-year-old Black man outraged the community. The Charleston County Council agreed to pay Sutherland’s family $10 million as part of a civil lawsuit.The deputies involved were not criminally charged.

In the case of D’Angelo Dontrel Brown, the coroner ruled his death a homicide due to gross medical neglect. The 27-year-old, who suffered from schizophrenia, was found unconscious after being held for months in isolation.

In Columbia, federal authorities will try to determine if officials at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center subject inmates to dangerous living conditions and fail to protect them from violence. Authorities point to more than a dozen stabbings, two rapes and a riot at the jail. And they cite the case of Lason Butler, an inmate who died of dehydration. His death was ruled a homicide. Attorneys for Butler’s family released a statement Thursday.

“For too long, the officials at Richland County have turned a blind eye to the violence and neglect infesting Alvin S. Glenn,” attorneys from the Strom Law Firm said.

“They have ignored this death trap and the cries of victims while the cost in lives and suffering continues to rise.”

Shortly before Thursday's announcement, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano responded to the federal investigation into conditions at the North Charleston jail.

“I stand by the statement I made back in March 2023,” Sheriff Graziano said. “I will say it again, the allegation that we have been anything but transparent is categorically false.”

No word on how long the federal investigations will take. Authorities say they will issue written recommendations to the detention centers once they’re done.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.