In the midst of an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into whether South Carolina’s Hampton Roads Regional Jail (HRRJ) was violating detainees’ civil rights and breaking disability laws by depriving them of medical and mental health care, HRRJ’s board hired as the new superintendent Ronaldo Myers. James Boyd, president of the Portsmouth chapter of the NAACP and HRRJ advisory committee member, said he is “worried and disturbed” about Myers’ hiring.
The reason for that concern stems from the February 2013 incident that resulted in the death of Robert Sweeper at South Carolina’s Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. Sweeper, who was mentally ill, suffered psychotic episode and sought refuge from the cold on the University of South Carolina campus. He was arrested for trespassing.
Sweeper was placed in isolation despite the fact he was “disoriented, incoherent, and in need of immediate help,” said attorney Richard Harpootlian, who sued on behalf of Sweeper. Guard Robin Smith, an 18-year veteran, lost his temper when Sweeper failed to obey his instruction during a search of the cell.
Smith repeatedly kicked Sweeper in the head and ribcage, the civil complaint said. He also stood on Sweeper’s neck while jerking his arms up. Sweeper’s “savage” beating resulted in three broken ribs and two broken vertebrae. It also collapsed one of his lungs.
Despite his injuries, Sweeper was restrained and not taken to a hospital for four days. Once at the hospital,m he was diagnosed with dehydration, septic shock, broken ribs and spine, acute renal failure, and brain damage. The city of Richland paid $750,000, and Correct Care solutions, the jail’s private medical vendor, paid $600,000 to settle Sweeper’s suit.
Six guards were fired for not reporting the beating, and Smith was convicted of federal civil rights violations and sentenced to two years in prison and $27,800 in restitution. Myers was the superintendent when Sweeper was beaten.
He said he made no major changes in the aftermath. “Nothing’s changed,” Myers said. “We just reinforced what was already in place.” Boyd said Myers and the other candidate to be HRRJ’s superintendent were ill suited for the position.
"The candidates did not pass the smell test,” he said. When a subcommittee for HRRJ’s board questioned Myers, the issue of Sweeper’s beating was brought up. Yet, when his hiring came before the full board, the issue was not brought. That history of supervisory laxness that allowed Sweeper’s beating to go unreported for four days did not seem to the board an indicator of what they could expect from Myers in the future.
“I have full confidence he’ll come in and do a very good job,” said acting HRRJ superintendent, Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan.
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