Richland County jail guard charged in inmate beating

cleblanc@thestate.comFebruary 25, 2013 

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A Richland County jail guard was charged Monday in what detectives said was the stomping of an inmate earlier this month.

Robin Smith, 37, was arrested in the Feb. 11 assault of a 52-year-old inmate who had been booked on a trespass charge, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Smith, a jail employee for two years, is charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and was booked into the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center – the very jail where he is accused of attacking the inmate. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the inmate had refused to comply with instructions from his jailers.

Smith was fired Monday, county spokeswoman Stephany Snowden said.

Deputies allege Smith repeatedly kicked the inmate in the head and side, then put his boot on the inmate’s head and neck while pulling his arm in the opposite direction.

But deputies didn’t find out about the assault until 10 days after the incident, and then only when staffers at Palmetto Health Richland hospital filed a report, the release said.

The inmate, whose name has not been released, was listed in critical but stable condition as of Monday, hospital officials told deputies.

“His injuries were very severe to his head and upper body,” department spokesman Chris Cowan said earlier Monday. It was unclear Monday how long the inmate had been at the jail. He had been arrested by USC police on a trespassing charge, Cowan said.

Jail personnel are cooperating with the investigation, the news release said.

County Council is to receive a briefing on the incident during a closed-door session today. The agenda lists the discussion as a personnel matter involving the jail.

County administrator Tony McDonald, citing the investigation, would not discuss the incident Monday other than to confirm that it happened. He notified council members of it Friday through emails.

Councilman Seth Rose, a former prosecutor, said County Council is to create a committee to look into problems at the jail. “County Council takes this as a serious situation,” Rose said. “We’re going to make some improvements.”

The jail is operated by county government, not the Sheriff’s Department. However, sheriff’s officials have the responsibility to investigate allegations of crimes that occur at the facility.

Within the past 31/2 years, at least five inmates have died in the county jail, according to news reports.

During a two-week period last summer, two inmates died. Further, seven perished under questionable circumstances between 2000 and 2006.

Most of the deaths since fall 2009 were ruled self-inflicted or natural deaths, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said Monday.

The Aug. 24, 2011, death of Matthew Green, 58, was a case of justifiable homicide by a jail guard, who put a headlock on Green during a scuffle when he resisted being booked into the jail, Watts said.

Cause of death of remains undetermined for Mshari Russell, 22, but likely was linked to her schizophrenia, he said. She was arrested on a trespassing charge and died Aug. 1, 2012, days after Joshua L. Sullivan hanged himself. Watts ruled Sullivan’s July 20 death a suicide. He had been jailed on charges that he threw a Molotov cocktail through a window of the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services office on Gregg Street.

Robert Lee Morris, 36, died May 10, 2011, of withdrawal from years of alcohol abuse, the coroner said. Though Morris’ death was ruled accidental, Watts said the jail staff should have sent him to the hospital for treatment of withdrawal rather than trying to treat Morris at the jail.

On Oct. 17, 2009, Olin Davis Taylor II hanged himself, Watts said. Taylor’s death was ruled self-inflicted.

One former inmate, Jonathan David McCoy, a 27-year-old Myrtle Beach attorney, sued in January 2010, saying he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after his cellmate hanged himself. In his suit, McCoy asked a federal judge to drop the interfering with a police officer charge that landed him in jail.

During the seven years between 2000 and 2006, one mentally ill inmate died of complications from hypothermia. The families of three mentally ill prisoners sued the company the county had hired to provide health services at the jail.

The county fired that company, Prison Health Services, and hired Correct Care Solutions.

Watts said an inquest he conducted into the deaths of the three inmates found mistakes by Prison Health Services, including billing the county for medicines that inmates did not receive.

Many of those who have died in the jail since 2000 had mental health or medical difficulties.

Web reporter R. Darren Price contributed to this report.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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