Death of improperly restrained patient ruled homicide in South Carolina

A mental health patient died of suffocation in January after being improperly restrained by employees from the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, according to investigation documents obtained by The State.

The incident occurred Jan. 22 at the Bryan Psychiatric Facility in Columbia, S.C. Footage obtained by The State shows seven staff members piling on top of William Avant after the 35-year-old patient grew disgruntled and tried to enter a medication room. Staff members did not move off Mr. Avant for four minutes. By then, Mr. Avant was not breathing and had no pulse. Staff members could not resuscitate him, and he was pronounced dead at Prisma Health Richland Hospital in Columbia.

State health regulators found staff members improperly pinned Mr. Avant to the ground and failed to monitor his breathing during the restraint. The county coroner ruled Mr. Avant's death a homicide, saying the employees' actions directly caused his death, according to The State. However, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division did not press criminal charges after its investigation.

Health officials cited the South Carolina Department of Mental Health for several violations linked to Mr. Avant's death. The department suspended several employees, retrained the entire hospital staff and revised its policy on physically restraining patients, according to documents The State obtained through an open records request.

The health department declined to answer any of The State's questions on Mr. Avant's death, citing patient privacy laws.

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