COLUMBIA, S.C. — The director of the Richland County jail has been fired after only two months on the job, the second time he's been terminated from leading a county jail this year.
A spokesperson for Richland County government confirmed Wednesday that Tyrell Cato had been terminated as of September 9, which was last Friday. The County said it made the move following an internal review by the Richland County Administrator.
The county did not elaborate on the findings of that review.
According to paperwork from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, Cato had been terminated from his previous job as the head of the Kershaw County Detention Center on May 24 of this year. He was hired at Richland County in July.
The move comes as the Richland County jail continues to face scrutiny over allegations of mistreatment of inmates.
In February, before Cato was hired, 27-year-old Lason Butler died while in custody at the Richland jail. In August attorneys for his family filed a federal lawsuit claiming unsanitary conditions and staff negligence led to Butler's death.
The suit claims Richland County officials sent Butler-- who displayed “erratic behavior” — to a room at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center where he frequently lay naked with an unflushed toilet and was placed on suicide watch — even though they knew the unit was unfit for inmates with mental health issues.
The lawsuit alleges that after a two-week period during which Butler lost more than 40 pounds and was assessed to be “floridly psychotic,” he was found dead on Feb. 12 with fresh rat bites and no running water.
An autopsy report showed Butler died of dehydration. The Richland County coroner ruled Butler’s death a homicide, noting a “lack of action” by the jail staff. At the time of his death, Butler was the third detainee to die this year, the coroner said.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Butler's mother, Lakeshia Butler, alleges that staff were deliberately indifferent to Butler's serious medical needs, violating his due process rights under the 14th Amendment. The suit names Richland County and six jail employees.
That litigation is not the first to allege poor and dangerous conditions at the jail. A federal lawsuit brought by Disability Rights South Carolina in April alleges unsafe and unsanitary cells where detainees with disabilities are held for up to 24 hours a day. Detainees with disabilities are also left naked in cells without monitoring while on suicide watch, according to that complaint.
Burnette Shutt & McDaniel attorney Stuart Andrews, who is representing Disability Rights in the other case, said the conditions described are “flatly unconstitutional" and “inhumane.”
Staffing issues at the jail have been well documented. According to a Richland County Council meeting agenda last summer, there were about 141 detention officer vacancies as of June 4, 2021, a number the council noted was “higher than normal.”
To draw more job applicants, the council unanimously voted in July 2021 to recommend increasing detention officers’ starting salary to $36,500, effective August 2021. The facility, according to one council member, could operate effectively with fewer than 264 budgeted detention officers. To help pay for the wage hike, 50 positions — which had been vacant for “quite some time,” according to a council member — would be frozen.