Originally created 07/23/98

Ex-inmate suit alleges abuse



GREENVILLE, S.C. -- A group of former Greenville County inmates has sued the county for $75 million, citing a pattern of abuse ranging from inadequate medical care to excessive force.

The lawsuit is the first major legal fallout for the county after a U.S. Justice Department report two months ago that detailed mistreatment of inmates at the overcrowded jail.

The eight former inmates include two who say they suffered massive heart problems while in jail after they were denied medication.

Their attorneys want the case declared a class-action suit so they can represent claims of anyone in the jail the past two years. Their allegations largely mirror the Justice Department's conclusions. But they also allege that inmates were deprived of adequate food and water, were forced to sleep in their own waste and that local officials conspired to cover up the problems.

The damages, if awarded, could have a devastating impact on the county's finances. Greenville County's state insurance policy has a $1 million cap, and the $75 million sought is more than twice the county's cash reserves. It equates to a $225 tax increase on a $75,000 house.

County Administrator Gerald Seals said he and his legal team had not seen the lawsuit. But County Councilman Scott Case, chairman of the council's Finance Committee, said the lawsuit was expected.

Two attorneys representing the inmates, Fletcher Smith and Dick James, said they are trying to clean up the jail and ensure that people who suffered there are compensated for their pain.

"The county should have been aware of what's going on in its own jail facility, and they had to have the Justice Department come in and tell them. And now were going to tell them in a lawsuit."

Named in the lawsuit are the county, County Council members, Mr. Seals, former jail director Perry Eichor, the jail's internal affairs investigator and four members of a county-appointed task force that found no pattern of abuse at the jail.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division investigated the jail following the death almost a year ago of 21-year-old inmate Jamel Radcliff after a struggle with guards. His family also has sued the county.

The agency's investigators concluded guards routinely used excessive force and that inmates were denied constitutional rights and adequate medical care. Seals has launched a massive overhaul of the jail with a new management team, a rewritten policy on using force that outlaws a form of restraining prisoners known as hog-tying and the dismissal of the company that has provided health care to inmates.