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
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
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
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