Sheriff, county sued by former inmate’s family

Published 5:57 pm Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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A civil lawsuit filed in Beaufort County Superior Court last week is seeking damages from Beaufort County Sheriff Ernie Coleman and Beaufort County government in regard to the 2017 death of Blounts Creek resident Cory Anderson.

Anderson was serving a 30-day sentence at the Beaufort County Detention Center for a probation violation in April and May of 2017 before he died at Vidant Beaufort Hospital on May 8, 2017. A report from the State Medical Examiner’s Office listed pneumonia and septic shock as the causes of death.

The lawsuit, dated May 7, was filed one day before the third anniversary of Anderson’s death, which also coincides with the three-year statute of limitations on civil suits related to personal injury. Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are Southern Health Partners, Inc., the health care provider contracted to provide medical care during Anderson’s incarceration, and Ohio Casualty Insurance Company, the company providing Coleman’s surety bond.

Filed by Anderson’s father, the suit alleges the defendants breached their duty to provide medical treatment for Anderson while he was in jail. It also alleges that the defendants violated Anderson’s 14th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Based on those allegations, and others, the lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $25,000, attorney and filing fees, punitive damages and new policies at the Beaufort County jail to ensure prisoners receive proper medical care.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” said Jesse Jones, the attorney representing the Andersons. “If people just had some respect and dignity and treated Cory like a person, not like a criminal, I don’t think the lawsuit would have gotten filed.”

Coleman, meanwhile, said he was still reviewing the lawsuit on Wednesday, but claimed he has been subjected to both personal and political harassment following Anderson’s death. The sheriff says he suspects that the timing of the lawsuit may be politically motivated, with court proceedings likely to stretch out into the 2022 election season.

“I’m 100% sure it’s going to be dismissed in court,” Coleman said.

In the three years since Anderson’s death, his family has publicly criticized the BCSO on multiple occasions for not contacting them when Anderson was admitted to the hospital. His uncle, Johnny Anderson, has appeared before the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners numerous times, asking them to press for changes to the BCSO’s policies for notifying family members of illnesses. Commissioners, however, do not have the legal authority to impose policy changes at the sheriff’s office.

Beaufort County Manager Brian Alligood said in an email Wednesday that he hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit, and that it’s standard practice for the county to not offer comment on pending litigation. Coleman said the BCSO will release a rebuttal to the lawsuit by the end of the week.