By Renee Sexton
The family of an inmate who was killed by two other inmates in a South Carolina prison has received $275,000 in a mediated wrongful death settlement, the family’s attorneys report.
Mark Peper and Marvin Pendarvis of the Peper Law Firm in Charleston report that the family of Michael Lorenzo Jones sued the South Carolina Department of Corrections in McCormick County Circuit Court for wrongful death and negligent hiring, training, and supervision.
The family’s attorneys said that Jones was serving a sentence at McCormick Correctional Institution in 2016 when he was attacked by the other two inmates and stabbed with a homemade shank. Jones received routine medical care and returned to his cell, but died about half an hour after he was stabbed.
At the time of the attack, a single correctional officer was covering the unit where the incident occurred and all interior doors–including all cell doors and those leading into and out of each wing–were unlocked and open, which allowed inmates to move around at will and unsupervised, Peper and Pendarvis said.
Information obtained through discovery revealed overcrowding at the prison, a lack of adequate supervision due to a shortage of staff correctional officers, failure to properly train, monitor and supervise correctional officers, failure to have proper policies and protocols in place to provide for inmate safety, and failure to provide the proper level of security in the wing after being notified of prior violent incidents there, the attorneys said.
The attorneys also argued that SCDC employees had failed to properly locate and dispose of contraband, properly classify and monitor inmates, and provide immediate medical care. Pendarvis said Jones had filed complaints with SCDC saying that he had been threatened and feared for his life and asking for help.
One of the inmates was charged with murder. The other was charged with accessory to murder.
“What happened to Mr. Jones was the result of a number of missteps that led to him ultimately being killed,” Pendarvis said. “If you have a facility that has a reputation, if you’ve got a unit within that facility that has a reputation of being a unit where certain types of violence occur, and you do nothing to address the ability for inmates to get their hands on chains or weapons that could carry out harm, you’re negligent.”
Jimmy King of Anderson mediated the settlement, which was approved on Nov. 12.
Pendarvis said the demand was limited by the cap on damages imposed by the South Carolina Tort Claims Act. He said the family knew at the beginning of the process that the settlement amount would be limited, but they hope the suit will force SCDC to address its staffing issues at McCormick.
“It’s clear that it’s understaffed. It’s clear that there are things that continue to take place within the department that need to be addressed,”Pendarvis said. “Just because someone’s been sentenced to time doesn’t mean that it’s a death sentence. It shouldn’t have to be that way, especially when it could be prevented and you have officers that are tasked with ensuring that inmates are able to serve their time without fear of death, and they need to be held accountable.”
Steven Pruitt with McDonald Patrick in Greenwood represented the SCDC. Neither he nor the department responded to a request for comment.
Follow Renee Sexton on Twitter @BobcatRenee
SETTLEMENT REPORT — WRONGFUL DEATH
Injuries alleged: Death
Case name: Estate of Michael Lorenzo Jones v. South Carolina Department of Corrections
Court: McCormick County Circuit Court
Case No.: 2018-CP-35-055
Mediator: Jimmy King of Anderson
Insurance carrier: South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund
Attorneys for plaintiff: Mark Peper and Marvin Pendarvis of the Peper Law Firm in Charleston
Attorney for defendant: Steven Pruitt of McDonald Patrick in Greenwood
Link (subscription required): https://sclawyersweekly.com/news/2020/01/15/family-of-man-killed-in-prison-settles-case-for-275k/