EXCLUSIVE: Beaten Richland mentally ill inmate gets $600,000 from health care provider

The guardian of a mentally ill homeless man who was nearly beaten to death at the Richland County jail in 2013 has been paid $600,000 in a settlement reached with a provider of health care at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.

The money paid by Correct Care Solutions brings the total amount paid in the beating of Richard Sweeper III, now 55, whom legal papers describe as “an incapacitated adult,” to $1.35 million.

Last year, county officials paid $750,000 to settle Sweeper’s first lawsuit. That lawsuit, like the latest one, was brought by Sweeper’s mother and guardian, Virginia Sweeper.

“The total, $1.35 million, is among the highest settlements in the state that I’ve heard of for the beating of a jail inmate – especially since the beating wasn’t recorded on camera,” said Jack Duncan, a Lexington attorney and former president of the S.C. Association of Trial Lawyers.

Sweeper’s case was investigated by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI, who said the extent of Sweeper’s injuries included a punctured lung, broken ribs and broken vertebrae.

Sweeper’s beating led to more cameras being installed, the firing of eight guards, a guard being sent to federal prison, better training for officers and plans to expand the jail to better accommodate mentally ill inmates.

After beating Sweeper senseless, guards left the nearly dead man in his cell for four days before someone decided he should go to the hospital. Sweeper’s lawsuit alleged that Correct Care Solutions, which provided health care for inmates, was negligent because it did not notice his injuries sooner and sent him to advanced medical treatment.

After being beaten, Sweeper was examined by a company doctor in his cell. Despite recommendations of other health care staff that he be hospitalized, the doctor decided against it “to avoid the expense” of sending Sweeper to the hospital, according to the complaint in lawsuit.

Correct Care had a policy that jail detainees and inmates “were not to be sent to the hospital for medical treatment except under extreme conditions and only as a last resort,” it said. “The purpose of this policy was to increase profits and reduce overhead expenses to Correct Care.”

As part of the settlement, Correct Care admitted no fault and Sweeper’s guardian agreed not to sue again.

Following a state and federal investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s office prosecuted former jail guard Robin Smith on federal criminal civil rights violations. In all, the jail fired eight guards, including Smith, who was the only one charged criminally.

In 2014, Smith pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Sweeper’s civil rights and is now serving a two-year sentence in a federal prison in Pennsylvania. He is eligible for release in February.

Sweeper has left town.

“These days, he lives with his mother in Charleston, and continues to have some mental and physical problems,” his attorney, Dick Harpootlian of Columbia, said.

Sweeper’s beating focused attention on the care of the mentally ill in South Carolina jails and caused the Richland County to install additional cameras and form a committee to study jail procedures. The county spent $100,000 on a nationally recognized jail consultant to recommend improvements.

County Councilman Seth Rose, who chaired the committee, said Friday that jail guards are now being trained to recognize and handle mentally ill inmates who cannot always control their behavior.

Also, said Rose, an expansion of the jail to handle mentally ill inmates is under consideration..

“The study said we do not have adequate space to treat the mentally ill in our facility,” Rose said.

Currently, mentally ill inmates are housed with other inmates. A separate area would cost “in the seven figures,” Rose said.

The rise of mentally ill inmates at the county jail stems partly from cuts by the General Assembly in services that treat and house the mentally ill, Rose said.

“As a result, the people who should be in a facility at the state level are finding their way into local jails,” he said.

Estimates are that about one-third – or almost 300 – of the county jail’s average daily inmate population of 890 who are awaiting trial or a bond hearing suffer some form of mental illness.

Of those, almost 20 need to be housed in a special unit where they can be safe from other inmates and receive specialized psychiatric treatment, county officials have said.

Changes at jail

Since the beating, changes at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center include:

▪ More surveillance cameras.

▪ Eight guards fired. including onein federal prison.

▪ Better training for officers on handle mentally ill prisoners.

▪ County Council considering jail expansion to provide sperate area for difficult mentally ill inmates.