Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

$3.5 Million for South Carolina Prisoner’s Death Due to Deliberate Indifference

The estate of a prisoner who died as a result of complications from medical ailments that went untreated at South Carolina’s Hill-Finklea Detention Center (HFDC) received $3.5 million from a settlement and jury verdict.

David Allan Woods, 50, was serving a 60-day sentence at HFDC. He had long-term medical problems prior to his incarceration, and submitted numerous requests for medical care between October 12 and November 5, 2010. Those requests were ignored.

Sgt. Priscilla Garrett and PFC Ashley A. Harber found Woods sick in his cell on November 5, and escorted him to a video-monitored observation cell. Once there, his condition deteriorated rapidly. Guards ignored Woods and never called a nurse as he lay on the floor, barely conscious and repeatedly defecating on himself over the weekend.

On November 7, Sgt. Garrett reportedly told her replacement, Sgt. Richard T. Burkholder, to call the nurse. He failed to do so. Thirty minutes later another guard wrote an incident report, stating Woods was very sick. When Garrett came back on duty Sunday night, she learned that Burkholder had failed to call for medical care for Woods, but took no action herself, the estate alleged.

A nurse finally became aware of Woods’ condition on Monday morning and ordered him sent to a hospital. By then it was too late. He died three days later, on November 11, 2010; his death was caused by complications from gastrointestinal bleeding, a duodenal ulcer, esophageal varices, cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis and cardiac arrest.

Following his death, Woods’ estate, represented by his mother, filed suit in federal court. Hope Clinic agreed to a $625,000 pretrial settlement. The only claim that remained, deliberate indifference, proceeded to trial with Burkholder, Garrett, PFC Leemon E. Carner, Andrew J. Bland and PFC Jerry Speissegger, Jr. as defendants.

In October 2014, following a four-day trial and four hours of deliberation, the jury concluded the defendants had acted with deliberate indifference. It awarded $500,000 in actual damages, $1 million in punitive damages against both Garrett and Burkholder, and $150,000 in punitive damages each against Carner, Bland and Speissegger, totaling $2.95 million.

After the verdict, the district court entered an award of $31,820.62 in costs plus $354,293 in attorney fees in January 2015. The defendants appealed, and on March 23, 2015 the court issued a stay of execution of the judgment while the appeal remains pending. See: Morris v. Bland, U.S.D.C. (D. SC), Case No. 5:12-cv-03177-RMG.

Woods had been jailed because he couldn’t afford to pay around $2,500 in fines resulting from shoplifting and animal nuisance convictions. While incarcerated, he twice called his outside doctor to express concerns about his medical condition, saying he feared that he would die.

Additional source:

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Morris v. Bland