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Man tased and starved in SC jail before death was supposed to be in hospital, suit says

Charlotte Observer - 11/15/2023

A man was supposed to be transferred from a South Carolina jail to a psychiatric hospital, but he remained detained for five months instead and died as a result, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

While at Bamberg County Detention Center, 51-year-old Alan R. Thibodeau wasn’t given medication for his diabetes and mental health and was allowed to starve, a lawsuit filed by his brother on Oct. 26 says. The jail’s staff are accused of neglecting his needs.

During his detainment — when Thibodeau was meant to be at G. Werber Bryan Psychiatric Hospital in Columbia by order of a probate court — he was isolated and “spent the bulk of his time naked and covered in excrement” in his cell, a complaint says.

He weighed 178 pounds a few months before entering the jail, where his weight drastically dropped, according to the complaint, which says he weighed 101 pounds on his final day there on July 10, 2022.

That day, he was found unresponsive and was later admitted to Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia in handcuffs, the complaint says.

Thibodeau ultimately died from “severe physical decompensation and starvation” at the medical center on July 23, 2022, the complaint says.

According to the lawsuit, Thibodeau had faced “unreasonable and excessive force,” in jail, including “the use of taser guns and chemical munitions.”

One of his brothers, Edwin Thibodeau, who filed the lawsuit over his death, believes he was repeatedly tased as punishment due to him “displaying symptoms of his untreated mental health conditions,” the complaint says.

Edwin Thibodeau also believes this contributed to his brother’s rapid deterioration, according to the complaint.

He is suing Bamberg County and a nurse, employed by correctional health care provider Southern Health Partners Inc., who works at the jail, the complaint shows.

On Nov. 6, Edwin Thibodeau’s attorneys filed a notice of their intent to sue Southern Health Partners in relation to medical malpractice.

McClatchy News contacted Bamberg County officials and Southern Health Partners for comment on Nov. 14 and didn’t receive immediate responses.

“Alan was a loving father, son, and brother,” Thibodeau’s family said in an Oct. 25 statement provided to McClatchy News. “His treatment while detained is sickening and we expect full accountability for his death.”

What led up to Thibodeau’s detainment?

Thibodeau, a single father of an adult son, had been living with his parents in Prince William County in Virginia, according to the complaint.

After his father died in 2021, he began “(weaning) himself off” of psychiatric medications that had helped “successfully” manage his schizophrenia — a condition he was diagnosed with at the age of 20, the complaint says.

In February 2022, Thibodeau went missing from a medical center in Petersburg, Virginia — leading to his brother reporting him missing, according to the complaint.

Later that month, Thibodeau was found asleep in a home in Bamberg, South Carolina, where he told responding authorities he had entered “to have a place to stay and keep warm,” the complaint says.

The incident led to Thibodeau’s arrest and detainment at the Bamberg County Detention Center on a burglary charge, according to the complaint and court records.

Following a mental health evaluation conducted by the state health department, a Bamberg County circuit court decided Thibodeau was “unable to stand trial,” according to the complaint.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health had concluded that Thibodeau “likely has untreated symptoms of mental illness,” the complaint says.

A county probate court then ordered he be committed to the G. Werber Bryan Psychiatric Hospital — but he never was transferred from jail, according to the complaint.

‘No possible justification for what happened’

In jail, Thibodeau never received his mental health medications or diabetes medications, despite his medical history of taking insulin and metformin, the complaint says.

Part of his stay in jail was documented on video. Some of the footage was published online by Evans Moore LLC law firm, which represents Edwin Thibodeau.

As Alan Thibodeau’s “mental health sharply deteriorated,” his “behavior was misunderstood as noncompliance, resulting in him being repeatedly subjected to physical force,” the video is captioned.

The video goes on to show a clip of Thibodeau being tased while on the ground and naked.

On July 10, 2022 — when Thibodeau was found unresponsive in jail, according to the complaint — an unidentified woman is heard speaking about his status, according to a clip included in the video.

“Please don’t judge us,” the woman said in the video. “We’ve been trying to deal with this man … now he’s not responding real well and I’m a little scared.”

“He’s laying in feces and everything … he always fights us … so we kinda just leave him,” the woman continued, according to the video.

Thibodeau was later admitted to Lexington Medical Center, the complaint says.

Upon his admission, his organs were failing — including his heart, liver and kidney in addition to circulatory and respiratory failure, according to the complaint. He also was extremely dehydrated and in septic shock, the complaint says.

His subsequent death on July 23, 2022, “would have been prevented” if Thibodeau received “adequate hydration, nourishment, and medical intervention” in jail, according to the complaint.

Thibodeau’s son has since suffered “unnecessary and preventable grief and sorrow” as a result of his death, the complaint says.

Edwin Thibodeau’s lawsuit seeks to recover unspecified damages and demands a trial by jury.

“There’s no possible justification for what happened,” Thibodeau’s family said in their statement.

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