SC law­mak­ers want an­swers af­ter men­tal health pa­tients drowned

The State - - Front Page - BY MAAYAN SCHECHTER mschechter@thes­

Two S.C. deputies who drove a van car­ry­ing two men­tal health pa­tients into flood­wa­ters in Septem­ber did not have a key to the van’s rear door to al­low them to res­cue the trapped women, S.C. law­mak­ers were told Thurs­day.

In­stead, Ni­co­lette “Nikki” Green, 43, and Wendy New­ton, 45, died a slow death, their fam­i­lies said.

“My aunt Nini was treated like a crim­i­nal,” said Green’s 14-year-old nephew, Con­nor Green-John­son. “Her rights were vi­o­lated through the ac­tions of two neg­li­gent deputies and an old, out­dated men­tal health care sys­tem.”

Sen­a­tors called Thurs­day’s hear­ing af­ter the women — Green of Myr­tle Beach and New­ton of Shal­lotte, N.C. — drowned Sept. 18 in the back of an Horry County sher­iff’s van that sub­merged in Hur­ri­cane Florence-re­lated flood­ing in Mar­ion County.

The women were picked up by the sher­iff’s van at a men­tal-

health fa­cil­ity in Loris and the Wac­ca­maw Cen­ter for Men­tal Health for trans­fer to fa­cil­i­ties in Dar­ling­ton and Lan­caster.

Nei­ther Green nor New­ton — both de­scribed by their fam­i­lies as hav­ing no his­tory of vi­o­lence — was re­strained or shack­led in the van, ac­cord­ing to pre­vi­ous me­dia re­ports.

Green’s sis­ter, Don­nela Green-John­son, told law­mak­ers that fam­ily mem­bers were told deputies were given an ap­proved route to take that would avoided flooded roads.

In­stead, the fam­i­lies said, the deputies drove down a flooded road. Once in the wa­ter, the van dropped into a 5- to 7foot-deep hole, lift­ing the van and pin­ning it against a guardrail, New­ton’s fam­ily at­tor­ney, Tommy Brit­tain, told sen­a­tors.

That made the van’s side door un­us­able. The deputies couldn’t free the women through the van’s rear door be­cause they did not have its key or bolt­cut­ters, Brit­tain said.

Un­able to free the women, the two deputies waited on top of the van un­til res­cue teams from Mar­ion and Horry could ar­rive.

Both women were trapped in the van for more than 24 hours un­til res­cuers could re­move their bod­ies.

“There was no pol­icy here. ... There was no train- ing here, Mr. Chair­man,” Brit­tain told state Sen. Mar­lon Kimp­son, D-Charles­ton, who chaired Thurs­day’s hear­ing. “The il­le­gal, con­scious in­dif­fer­ence to the rights of the men­tally ill is a se­ri­ous prob­lem in our state.”

Horry County deputies Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop since have been fired.

Their ter­mi­na­tion let­ter said the deputies “made a con­scious de­ci­sion” to drive the van around a road bar­ri­cade and into flood­wa­ters.

The S.C. Law En­force­ment Divi­sion in­ves­ti­gated the deaths at the re­quest of the Horry County sher­iff. SLED Chief Mark Keel told sen­a­tors Thurs­day that re­port will be sent to the 12th Cir­cuit Solic­i­tor’s Of­fice for a de­ci­sion about whether to file charges.

Green’s fam­ily has called for both ex-deputies to face crim­i­nal charges.


In June, Green re­turned home to Myr­tle Beach, mourn­ing the death of her 7-year-old son, her sis­ter Green-John­son said. Green was di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia and put on med­i­ca­tion.

“It’s bit­ter­sweet be­cause we had just got­ten my sis­ter back,” GreenJohn­son said

On Sept. 18, GreenJohn­son said Green’s 19-year-old daugh­ter drove her to a sched­uled coun­sel­ing ap­point­ment, where her new coun­selor de­cided Green should be com­mit­ted.

Green’s daugh­ter “feels like she de­liv­ered her mom to her death,” Green-John­son said, adding the fam­ily never was given an op­por­tu­nity to trans­fer Green them­selves.

Law­mak­ers say state law about trans­port­ing men­tal health pa­tients might need to be changed.

That law re­quires law en­force­ment to trans­port peo­ple who are deemed by a pro­bate court judge or doc­tor to have a men­tal ill­ness and, as a re­sult, are likely to cause se­ri­ous harm to them­selves or oth­ers if not hos­pi­tal­ized, Jar­rod Bruder, head of the S.C. Sher­iff’s As­so­ci­a­tion, told law­mak­ers Thurs­day.

That puts a tremen­dous strain on lo­cal re­sources, Bruder said.

“To put it bluntly, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers are re­quired, per South Carolina law, to treat in­di­vid­u­als who have com­mit­ted no crime as if they were crim­i­nals,” Bruder said.

New­ton’s chil­dren told re­porters Thurs­day their mom had been trans­ported by law en­force­ment be­fore but never in a “caged” van.

“We want change,” said New­ton’s daugh­ter, Al­li­son. “We don’t want this for­got­ten.”


Tommy Brit­tain, New­ton fam­ily at­tor­ney

TIM DOMINICK tdo­minick@thes­

Con­nor Green-John­son speaks about his late aunt, Ni­co­lette “Nikki” Green, be­fore a S.C. Se­nate sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing about the deaths of two fe­male men­tal-health pa­tients who drowned in Septem­ber while be­ing trans­ported by Horry County Sher­iff's Of­fice deputies.

JOSH BELL jbell@the­sun­

A me­mo­rial on U.S. High­way 76 honors the mem­ory of Ni­co­lette “Nikki” Green and Wendy New­ton.

JOSH BELL jbell@the­sun­

Horry County Sher­iff's deputies were trans­port­ing Ni­co­lette Green and Wendy New­ton from Con­way to fa­cil­i­ties in Dar­ling­ton and Lan­caster when the trans­port van was swept into flood­wa­ters along High­way 76.

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