The Deaths in Custody Report Act ((DCRA) was enacted in 2000 amidst congressional concerns regarding the health and well-being of persons subject to the custody of law enforcement and correctional officials. DCRA mandates state participation in the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP), which collects data on deaths that occur at two stages in the criminal justice process: in the process of arrest and in jails and prison. This report addresses only the “process of arrest” deaths that occurred in South Carolina from April 2007 through March 2008. DCRP is administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in the United States Department of Justice and provides the national basis for statistical reporting concerning fatalities related to law enforcement arrests and other custodial actions.
Since 2003, the South Carolina Department of Public Safety has met this mandate by collaborating with the University of South Carolina, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice (USC). As part of this collaboration, USC surveys county coroners and reviews media reports to identify and report on cases that meet these federal criteria. This information is entered onto data collection forms, reviewed and those forms are forwarded to BJS. BJS compiles the data from each state and has developed a series of statistical reports concerning deaths in custody nationwide. These statistical reports can be viewed at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/dcrp/dictabs.htm
It is important to note that the name of the program might lead readers to incorrect conclusions regarding the nature of the data collected. Taken literally, the phrase “deaths in custody” provides an incomplete description of the data collected. Although DCRA requires the collection of information on deaths of individuals who die while in police custody, it also requires the collection of information concerning deaths of persons who are in the process of arrest and not necessarily in the physical custody of law enforcement officers. Such deaths are counted if the death is the result of police force, suicide, deadly force by people other than law enforcement or natural causes during the process of arrest. For example, a suspect fleeing arrest who jumps into a body of water and subsequently drowns would be counted in this report. Similarly, a barricaded suspect who ultimately decides to commit suicide rather than “give up” to the police would be counted.
DCRA also requires the inclusion of individuals who die in short term lock-ups, even if they have been released by the arresting officer and remanded to the custody of detention officers. However, this does not include deaths in jails which are reported to BJS under a separate data collection process.
Finally, deaths related to police chases resulting in accidental deaths are included only if police took direct action, such as ramming the vehicle, shooting at the vehicle or other actions which directly caused the vehicle to crash. Deaths that result from a chase where the police simply give chase are not included.
This report was funded under Federal Grant Number 2007-BJ-CX-K017 from the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Any points of view or opinions stated are those of the principal researcher and do not necessarily represent the opinion or official position of the United States Department of Justice.
This report summarizes findings regarding the on-going effort of research staff at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina to collect information about persons who died while in police custody during the last three quarters of 2007 and the first quarter of 2008 (April 1, 2007 – March 31, 2007).
As during previous data collection reporting periods, county coroners in South Carolina were contacted to determine whether or not any persons died while in police custody. When a corner indicated a death meeting the “in custody” criteria occurred, details regarding that death were requested. In addition to contacting coroners, media searches were conducted by research staff to identify deaths that might have gone unreported and to assist coroners in locating case files by providing names and dates of death.
Based on the media searches and information supplied by coroners or their assistants, 15 deaths in police custody were identified that occurred during the 12-month reporting period. However, at the time of this report, information for four deaths was pending and not yet available from coroners. We will attempt to collect information regarding these deaths during the next round of data collection.
The research staff also collected information on five deaths that occurred during the previous round of data collection, but for which the details from coroners were pending at the time. CJ11A forms for these deaths were completed and Table 2 in the appendix provides basic descriptive statistics and other information regarding these cases.
A summary of the findings begins on page 3. Brief narratives about each incident begin on page 4, and media accounts of deaths begin on page 7. The next section describes the methodology.
As during previous data collection efforts, information on deaths in police custody was obtained by contacting all county coroners’ offices in the State (N = 46). We report on deaths that occurred during the second quarter of 2007 through the first quarter of 2008 (April 30 – March 31). One change implemented this round is that rather than collecting data quarterly, the research staff collected data semiannually. Specifically, county coroners were contacted during October to collect data on deaths that occurred April 30 – September 30 and again during April to collect data on deaths that occurred October 31 – March 31. Coroners or their assistants were contacted by phone, fax, or email, and asked whether or not any subjects in their county died while in police custody during the previous six months. If a death appeared to meet the criteria established by the Bureau of Justice Statistics for a death in police custody, the respondent was asked to provide specific details regarding that death. The research staff also inquired about several deaths that occurred during the previous reporting period but for which information was not available at the time (N = 4). Basic descriptive information for these deaths is provided in the appendix (Table 2).
In addition to contacting coroners’ offices, internet searches were conducted to obtain media accounts of deaths. This information was used to assist coroners in identifying eligible cases in their records by providing names and dates, and to identify deaths that may have gone unreported by corners. If unreported cases were identified, coroners were queried about them and details requested.