County settles $450K detention center lawsuit

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County has agreed to pay $450,000 to Debra Knight Croxton, a Great Falls woman whose son died while in custody at the Fairfield County Detention Center.

The payout comes as staffing shortages, outlined by Croxton in her original lawsuit, continue to plague the county jail years later. According to Councilman Douglas Pauley, the county currently funds 18 positions, two less than was funded in 2015. Of those 18 positions funded, there are only 16 officers, 13 less than the 29 minimum required.

“This is not safe for the detention center employees or for the detainees,” Pauley. “Our officers are crying for more help on the floor, but the wages paid by the county are so low that we’re not retaining the employees we have. Our county leadership needs to rectify this situation before we have more deaths and more lawsuits,” Pauley said. “We need to quit pouring millions into more and more recreation centers and start pouring that money into our detention center, give our employees a living wage and safer working conditions.”

Circuit Judge Brian Gibbons approved the Croxton settlement Aug. 18, only days after the detention center staff unleased a litany of complaints concerning lack of adequate staffing, and the unexpected resignation of the jail director last month.

In addition to dismissing circuit court cases, the settlement also ends similar pending litigation in federal court, though no additional settlement funds were awarded in the federal case.

Croxton’s lawyers said in previously filed court records that she’s satisfied with the settlement.

“The Plaintiff/Petitioner would further show and verify under oath at the hearing scheduled in this matter the belief that the settlement is fair and just, that she is completely satisfied with all aspects of the settlement,” court records state.

The settlement concludes litigation that has been ongoing for over two years.

Debra Croxton filed wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuits in 2020. Her son, Brent Croxton, hanged himself in his jail cell in January 2019, court records state.

Debra Croxton sued Fairfield County, the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, and the jail’s contracted physician, stating the defendants should be held liable for her son’s death.

The lawsuit stated jail staff missed warning signs, and failed to properly train and supervise employees, and failed to provide adequate medical care – all of which she said contributed to her son’s death.

“The above actions and/or inactions of the Defendants caused the decedent to needlessly suffer, both physically and mentally, and ultimately die,” the suit stated.

Staff shortages go unaddressed

Inadequate detention center staffing also contributed to Brent Croxton’s suicide, according to the suit.

Fairfield County failed “to provide the appropriate number of detention staff at the various locations in the Fairfield County Detention Center,” court papers stated.

The county also failed “to provide adequate and appropriate security officers at the Fairfield County Detention Center,” the suit continued.

Teresa Lawson, former detention center director, resigned abruptly in July after 10 years in the top post. In her resignation later, Lawson said county leaders have ignored the jail’s staffing shortage.

“Failure to address [the detention center’s] staffing concerns and other critical issues has made this position impossible to succeed in,” Lawson said in her resignation letter.

The letter further stated that two “desperately needed” officer positions had remained vacant for over a year, yet county administration was preparing to hire a deputy director without consulting her.

“As of right now we have 22 violent offenders and several mental health inmates that require additional security,” Lawson wrote.

After Lawson’s departure, 16 of the 18 correction officers working in the detention center signed a petition demanding she be reinstated. The petition also called attention to severe staffing shortages.

Pleas for help have gone unanswered by the current council majority.

On July 25, detention center officer Iesha Dupree told council members during public input that inmate violence is on the rise.

“A few months ago there was an incident in which the majority of the dorm refused to lock down and threatened to riot, throwing chairs and injuring an employee,” Dupree said. “Due to our lack of manpower, we had to call county and public safety law enforcement to help us.”

In another incident, a combative inmate attacked a detention officer, Dupree said.

“We feel abandoned and ignored. No one in the county administration has responded to our needs,” she said.

Last week, DuPree left the county’s employ for a better paying job.

Comments

  1. This lawsuit was filed in 2019 and not during the current council’s tenure as noted in article There is a shortage that needs to be addressed asap along with competitive salaries to surrounding counties.

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