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Sleeping Guard Who Allowed Suicidal Prisoner to Hang Himself Prompts $507,500 Settlement

by Dale Chappell

A sleeping guard at the Lancaster County jail in South Carolina, who was supposed to be watching a suicidal prisoner who killed himself, prompted the county to settle a wrongful death suit for $507,500.

When Randy Stevens’ friend called 911 in May 2014 because Stevens was suicidal, Lancaster County Sheriff’s deputies responded along with EMS. Instead of allowing Stevens to be transported by EMS for an evaluation, deputies D. Dailey and A. Lloyd, who did not have any medical training, took Stevens to jail. Only after he complained of chest pain was he taken to a hospital.

Two hours later, Stevens, who according to toxicology reports and security video footage was “grossly intoxicated,” refused treatment at the hospital and was transported to the jail, according to court pleadings.

During an intake medical screening, deputies Dailey and Lloyd kept harassing and inciting Stevens to the point he was uncooperative, and the screening was never completed. Stevens was placed not in a suicide watch cell or even the “drunk tank,” but in a cell down a hallway that did not have direct observation by guards. Dailey and Lloyd also reportedly neglected to tell jail staff that Stevens was suicidal.

There was a live video feed of the cell that was monitored by staff. However, on that night the guard tasked with watching the camera in Stevens’ cell was asleep with headphones on at her desk.

Almost four hours later, jail staff decided to finish the medical screening and went to check on Stevens. They found him hanging by a sheet from a vent; he had been dead for hours. The lawsuit filed by his family said staff members then falsified reports that Stevens was checked every hour according to policy. Security video footage proved this to be untrue.

Stevens’ family filed suit in federal court in May 2016, alleging that jail staff were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, failed to take steps to prevent self-harm, failed to monitor the video feed of his cell and left him alone and unsupervised for over four hours, allowing him to kill himself.

Jailers should have known that Stevens was suicidal and grossly intoxicated, the lawsuit claimed, and the failure of staff to take reasonable steps to address those issues “breached their constitutional duty” to Stevens. The complaint asked for compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney’s fees.

Almost three years after the lawsuit was filed, Stevens’ family and Lancaster County officials reached an agreement that included $507,500 to be paid to Stevens’ estate. The district court approved the settlement on March 29, 2019.

The family’s attorney, Chris Mills, said in a statement, “law enforcement needs to remain open both to protect and to serve, not just to arrest and prosecute.”

Personnel disciplinary records from the jail, obtained by the Rock Hill Herald, showed that two guards were fired and others were reprimanded following Stevens’ death. See: Laney v. Watson, U.S.D.C. (D. SC), Case No. 1:16-cv-02215-SVH. 

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Additional source: thestate.com

Related legal case

Laney v. Watson