Officers charged in the drowning deaths of detainees abandoned in van during Hurricane Florence
By Mark Puleo, AccuWeather staff writer
January 07, 2019, 9:30:38 AM EST
After driving and abandoning a police van amidst the floodwaters of Hurricane Florence, two deputies from the Horry County Sheriff's Office have been charged in the drowning deaths of the two detainees they were in charge of transporting.
The officers made the decision to ignore a road barrier and drive the van into rushing floodwaters, where it became pinned against a guardrail. The victims, Windy Wenton and Nicolette Green, were unable to unlock the door from the inside and were left to drown.
Charged officers Stephen Flood and Joshua Bishop were reportedly waved through the barricade by National Guardsmen. The ensuing discipline report from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy found that the officers acted with a willful disregard for the safety of the detainees and that Flood, who drove the van, “made a conscious decision” to ignore the road barricades as they drove into the flooded road.
The barricade was located near the Little Pee Dee River, one of the rivers most prone to flooding after the storm. After Florence, water from the river crested at record levels.
In court on Friday, Flood was charged with two counts of reckless homicide and involuntary manslaughter. Bishop has been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. Both were fired from their posts in October. The pair turned themselves in to the Marion County Sheriff's Office on Friday morning and were released after posting bond.
Wendy Newton’s and Nicolette Green’s families are testifying about the death of their loved ones. Green’s mother said her daughter died because of the “stupidity and selfishness of two deputies.” They asked for the highest bond possible. pic.twitter.com/iA9Lr8IULY— Andrew Brown (@Andy_Ed_Brown) January 4, 2019
The arrest warrant for Bishop stated that he was made aware of a safer route and the roads they were planning on traveling were impassible. The officers ignored that warning and instead drove into the rushing waters, where the van was pushed into a large hole caused by the washout.
Before Florence, reports swirled around the country that prisons in South Carolina were deciding not to evacuate prisoners, despite Governor Henry McMaster’s mandatory evacuation. Despite the storm being well forecast, prison officials told The New Yorker that a prison evacuation would have been logistically difficult to maneuver. Instead, thousands of prisoners were left in their cells during the storm and rising floodwaters.
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In past hurricanes, such as Katrina and Harvey, prisoners also reported flooding in cells. After Katrina, the American Civil Liberties Union reported in 2006 that prisoners were left in cells without power, food, water or ventilation for days.
Before Florence, and before the deaths of Wenton and Green, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called for South Carolina prisons to evacuate detainees before the storm.
"The decision not to evacuate state prisons doesn’t mention local jails and detention centers, which are often woefully underprepared for anything out of the ordinary and are under local county purview," the ACLU said. "...if Gov. McMaster truly does not want to 'gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina,' he needs to make sure that the prison system is up to par, or evacuate the inmates just as he has ordered the rest of us to do."
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