BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – On October 4, 2019, Matthew Bell, an inmate serving time for not paying child support, was found unresponsive by an employee of the Hill-Finklea Detention Center.
News 2 recently obtained the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s investigative report on his death along with video interviews, which were conducted by investigators the morning Bell died, and a recording of a call made from jail between Bell and his girlfriend.
In the call, Bell’s girlfriend said she had rented a motel room for October 3rd, the day Bell was scheduled to be signed out of jail for an eye doctor appointment.
“We are getting a room for a discounted rate. We don’t need it for that long,” she said.
Bell was a family court inmate which meant he was in charge of his own medical care and therefore was allowed to leave the facility for scheduled appointments.
SLED Investigator: “So if a dude want wanted to get out. He can have a his girlfriend or whatever schedule an eye doctor appointment?”
Corporal James Cachot: “mhm”
The detention center offered family transports for said appointments.
“She did a form up saying that she had already verified that he had an eye appoint somewhere on Rivers Avenue and that he was allowed to leave at 12:30 p.m. as long as his ride had a valid driver’s license, insurance card, and valid registration,” Cpl. James Cachot said to SLED investigators.
According to the report, Bell was signed out of jail at 11:40 a.m. She was directed to notify Cpl. Cachot when they arrived at the appointment. At 1:00 p.m. she sent a photo of the two of them at the eyeglasses shop.
At 4:30 p.m., long after Bell was expected return, Cachot called the pair asking about their whereabouts.
Investigator: “At 4:30 they call you and they say they are stuck in traffic. You don’t believe them and then they don’t come back for more than 2 and half hours. Did you tell anybody else that you have inmate from the detention that is not in the detention center.”
Cachot: “No sir, I did not.”
Investigator: “Is there any policy or procedure?”
Cachot: “I have never seen no policy or procedure.”
Bell returned to the facility at 7:00 p.m., nearly eight hours after he was signed out.
According to the SLED investigation, detention center employees and fellow inmates noted he appeared to be intoxicated but no one reported it.
“We were all thinking that he wasn’t coming back anyway and then I saw him in the hallway and he was rubbing his face and I said, ‘man you alright?’ he said ‘no man, I just want to got sleep,'” said a fellow inmate to a SLED investigator.
Bell was found unresponsive in his cell the following morning. The Berkeley County coroner listed Bell’s cause of death “as acute combined drug (Alprazolam, Fetanyl) intoxication.”
When questioned about why an inmate was released from jail to his girlfriend, Demory pointed to a Bell’s family court order that states inmates are to be released for care.
“The jailer for the Hill-Finklea Detention Center shall release the defendant to obtain medical treatment for any medical problems serious or other provided proper paperwork is completed. Upon completion of any medical treatment and release by any treating physician the defendant shall return to the County Detention Center to complete the service of his/her sentence. During those periods of time that the defendant is released for the purpose of seeking medical treatment, Berkeley County shall not be responsible for him or her.County of Berkeley, Civil Contempt order Non Support
“This program exists as ordered by the court. The court order itself gives the permission to leave the jail and the court order itself says that while they are out there it is not the responsibility of the county jail. It’s on them and their family member,” said Demory.
Demory said Bell would have been disciplined the following morning by being moved to a higher security cell which would have lengthened his sentence when asked what the jail could have done to ensure Bell’s return or punish his behavior.
“There is not so much you can do. In this situation it is 100 percent on the shoulders of people seeking treatment and providing transportation,” he said.
Since Bells death, the detention center has not facilitated family transports.
News two is awaiting a response from family court.