$1.35 Million Total Settlement for South Carolina Detainee Beaten by Jail Guard
by David M. Reutter
Richland County, South Carolina has agreed to pay $750,000 to a pretrial detainee who was seriously injured after being beaten by a guard. The jail’s private medical contractor, Correct Care Solutions (CCS), paid $600,000 to settle a separate lawsuit alleging the denial of adequate medical care for the prisoner’s injuries.
Robert Sweeper III, 52, was arrested on a trespassing charge after University of South Carolina police found him sleeping in the doorway to a classroom building on the frigid morning of February 7, 2012. He was booked into the Richland County jail, also known as the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.
Sweeper was placed in a suicide cell because he was behaving erratically and found to be mentally unstable, uncooperative, combative and incoherent. He refused a mental health evaluation and was later seen dunking his head in a toilet.
Over the next four days Sweeper’s condition did not improve, yet CCS employees who were aware of his medical and mental problems failed to provide treatment or contact a doctor. Jail guard Robin Smith arrived at Sweeper’s cell in the early morning hours of February 11 to search for weapons and other items he could use to harm himself.
When Sweeper failed to comply, Smith violated jail policy by entering Sweeper’s cell. He then began to beat and repeatedly kick Sweeper, resulting in three broken ribs and two fractured vertebrae. Yet Sweeper was not examined or treated by CCS staff until three days later despite exhibiting serious injuries.
Dr. William Yates examined Sweeper on February 14, 2012. He checked his shoulder but failed to perform a complete physical exam. The next day, a local Department of Mental Health worker recommended that Sweeper be hospitalized.
A CCS nurse noted that “Sweeper had a dislocated shoulder, dehydration, psychosis, and unresponsiveness.” Without an X-ray to confirm the dislocation, Dr. Yates attempted to reset Sweeper’s shoulder. The doctor again failed to do a complete physical exam despite knowing that Sweeper had spent about eight hours in a restraint chair, suffered from dehydration and had an elevated pulse. Dr. Yates also knew Sweeper had been drinking toilet water, and although he prescribed mental health meds he did not order a psychiatric evaluation.
At about 4:15 p.m. on February 15, Sweeper’s condition had deteriorated to the point that he was finally transferred to a hospital. “Upon admission, he was diagnosed with hyperthermia, traumatic pneumothorax [a collapsed lung], rhabdomyolysis, septic shock, fractured spine, deep vein thrombosis, acute renal failure, encephalopathy, and an acute injury to the right shoulder,” according to the lawsuit filed against CCS. [See: PLN, Oct. 2013, p.56].
The complaint further alleged that the company had a policy of not sending detainees to a hospital until there were “extreme conditions” requiring hospitalization as a “last resort,” for the purpose of increasing profits and “reducing overhead expenses to CCS.”
A separate suit against Richland County was filed in state court but qualified for removal to federal court, where a jury verdict may have exceeded the $300,000 statutory cap on damages for tort claims. Despite the cap, county officials agreed to settle the case for $750,000, inclusive of attorney fees, in July 2014.
“If this were to move to federal court, we would be exposing Richland County to a multimillion dollar jury award,” stated Councilman Seth Rose. “We also had to take into account we would also be spending a large amount of money in attorneys’ fees defending what is basically an indefensible act by some employees.”
The investigation that followed Sweeper’s beating and hospitalization resulted in the termination of six guards for failing to report the abuse. Smith pleaded guilty in April 2014 to a federal charge of violating Sweeper’s civil rights, and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Sweeper was represented in state court by attorneys Richard A. Harpootlian and Frank McCann. See: Sweeper v. Richland County,Richland County Circuit Court,Case No. 2014-CP-40-4502. The federal suit against CCS settled for $600,000 on April 21, 2015; the company declined to comment on the case. See: Sweeper v. Correct Care Solutions, U.S.D.C. (D. SC), Case No. 2:14-cv-1950-MGL-MGB.
Additional sources: www.thestate.com, South Carolina Lawyers Weekly
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Related legal cases
Sweeper v. Correct Care Solutions
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. SC), Case No. 2:14-cv-1950-MGL-MGB|
Sweeper v. Richland County
|Cite||Richland County Circuit Court,Case No. 2014-CP-40-4502|
|Level||State Trial Court|