CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) — The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday announced a civil rights investigation into the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston.
The investigation will focus on medical and mental health care, the use of isolation, the use of force, and whether the jail discriminates against inmates with psychiatric disabilities, according to federal officials.
“Based on an extensive review of information that is publicly available or that we have received from stakeholders, we find significant justification to open these investigations now,” Assistant Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said.
Members of Charleston County Council sent a letter to the DOJ in March calling for an investigation into “several troubling and tragic deaths” at the facility in the past two years.
The request came specifically after an inmate who died last December was left in squalor at the jail. 28-year-old D’Angelo Brown’s death was deemed a homicide by the Charleston County Coroner’s Office.
Clarke also cited circumstances surrounding the January 2021 in-custody death of Jamal Sutherland as part of what sparked the investigation.
“Regardless of someone’s alleged crimes, they deserve to be treated fairly and they should not face substantial risk of serious harm while incarcerated,” Clarke said, emphasizing that jails should provide “constitutional and humane conditions” for people who are housed there while navigating the criminal justice process.
Concerns about mental health and staffing at the jail were echoed by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace, who joined Councilman Teddie Pryor for a tour of the detention center in March.
Mace said Thursday that she thinks the investigations will bring “much-needed transparency and accountability” to the justice system.
“As we stated in March when we wrote to the DOJ, it is imperative we ensure the fair and humane treatment of all individuals within our correctional facilities,” Mace said. “These DOJ investigations will bring much-needed transparency and accountability to our justice system, shedding light on any potential violations of civil rights and enabling us to implement necessary reforms. We remain committed to working towards a criminal justice system which upholds the principles of justice and safeguards the dignity and well-being of all.”
There have been eight reported deaths at the detention center since 2022.
“With today’s announcement, we want our community partners, our law enforcement partners, and our citizens who have filed complaints with us to know that we take these allegations seriously,” U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs for the District of South Carolina said.
In one case, 50-year-old Julian Jenkins died after suffering a medical emergency while being housed at the detention center in March.
“We’re pleased to see that there is an investigation,” said Democratic Rep. Marvin Pendarvis of Charleston, an attorney representing Jenkins’ family. “What we have seen over the years is an injustice. When someone is detained we should have to worry about whether they will come out alive or not.”
In response to the DOJ announcement, Sheriff Kristin Graziano pledged to cooperate with the investigation and reiterated earlier comments that allegations that her agency has been anything but transparent are “categorically false.”
“It is disappointing that some county council members, as well as other elected officials, are only curious when it is politically opportunistic,” Graziano said in a March 29 statement, adding that she stands behind the work of her employees.
“I will be the first person to welcome any member of the Department of Justice to my facility, and I believe that we are going above and beyond our call of duty to provide assistance on mental health concerns,” she continued. “I also invite elected officials of South Carolina to do their job and do their part to stop the dumping of the mentally ill in jails.”
Charleston County Council Chairman Herbert Sass also released a statement, saying that the council would fully cooperate with the DOJ on the investigation.
“We look forward to the Department of Justice’s review of the Charleston County Detention Center to ensure best practices and the highest level of care is provided to those housed,” he said.
Anyone with information related to the investigation is encouraged to contact DOJ via phone at 888-473-4059 or by email at Community.Cannon@usdoj.gov.
This story is breaking and may be updated.