Crime & Courts

Attorney wonders if mentally challenged inmate was also victimized for being a ‘nuisance’

An attorney wonders if his client, who suffers from a mental illness, was not protected appropriately and was perhaps attacked because of his behavior.
An attorney wonders if his client, who suffers from a mental illness, was not protected appropriately and was perhaps attacked because of his behavior.

The attorney of an inmate who was stabbed, allegedly by correctional officers, in October is raising questions about the prison system’s ability to protect the mentally ill after learning of the recent killings of four others at the same prison.

Stuart Mauney said he is waiting to learn why his client, Kenya Spry, was stabbed four times in the abdomen on Oct. 6 at Kirkland Correctional Institution. Spry’s injury forces him to use a colostomy bag to collect his body’s waste, according to a complaint filed in state court.

Mauney said he and his colleague, Kyle White, still don’t know what happened to Spry or why. Former officers Jarrell Boyan of Columbia, Pernell Fogle of Bowman, and Jaquan Smith of West Columbia, initially claimed self-defense, according to the complaint.

But the warrants that charged them with attempted murder and misconduct in office said Spry, 31, was handcuffed behind his back while he was stabbed.

Mauney wondered if Spry had been victimized for similar reasons to those who were killed last week. The State reported Wednesday that Jimmy Ham, 56, Jason Kelley, 35, John King, 52, and Williams Scruggs, 44, could have been killed, inside a dorm for mentally ill inmates, in part because they were considered a nuisance to other inmates.

“Did the three guards punish (Spry) because he was a nuisance?” Mauney asked. “Had they grown tired of his conduct? We want help in finding out what happened and why.”

Bryan Stirling, director of the S.C. Department of Corrections, declined to comment for this story, citing pending criminal investigations and civil filings.

Spry was arrested in 2004 on charges of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and armed robbery in Newberry County. He was later charged with attacking the correctional staff twice, which added more than a decade to his sentence.

His prison disciplinary report is lengthy. Spry has been disciplined 20 times since 2009 for threatening to inflict harm on an employee and six times for striking an employee, in addition to other sanctions.

Mauney declined to share Spry’s specific mental illness, but questioned if the mentally challenged are getting proper treatment. He said, however, despite the behavioral problems the mentally ill sometimes have, they deserve to be treated humanely like anybody else.

Though Spry’s accused attackers were arrested, Mauney has filed a lawsuit that alleges their superiors are still working for the agency – and they have threatened other mentally ill inmates with the same actions taken against Spry.

The complaint goes on to cite a scathing 2014 order by then-Circuit Court Judge Michael Baxley, who said that evidence from a 2005 lawsuit proved inmates died at the corrections department for lack of basic mental health care.

Mauney questioned whether the agency had taken appropriate steps to address Baxley’s order, considering the cases of Spry and the four inmates killed.

Former judge says gains are being made

Attorney Stuart Mauney is among many who recently cited Judge Michael Baxley’s 2014 order relating to the S.C. corrections department’s treatment of the mentally ill. But Baxley has remained mum since retiring as a judge shortly after issuing the order.

On Friday, Baxley said as a citizen who is no longer a judge, he would be “forever grateful” of the changes Bryan Stirling, director of the S.C. Department of Corrections, triggered when he took over the agency in late 2013.

Under prior administrations, the agency had continually appealed the 2005 lawsuit that called on the corrections department to better treat its mentally ill. And the corrections department had been on a downward spiral for more than a decade thanks to an underfunded system and under-trained staff, Baxley said.

“It seemed to me like while that case had been pending for almost a decade, the matters were getting worse,” Baxley said.

Under Stirling’s administration, the agency responded to the lawsuit by cooperating and began making progress. Baxley said he believes the strides have continued since.

Though he said he could not comment on the case of the four men killed last week, Baxley cautioned it takes time to change the culture and procedures of an agency. That’s why a multiyear problem requires a multiyear fix, he said.

“You can’t waive a wand at it and fix it overnight,” Baxley said. “It takes time to get out of that. You can’t just throw money at it.”