Enemy of the State: South Carolina’s Ongoing Persecution of a Mother

Dion McNeil 13

Brenda Bryant, 65, is in exile from the state of South Carolina. She says this is a result of winning a landmark supreme court case that featured the rape of her mentally disabled daughter. She says the the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs in coordination with several judges and officials have systematically retailiated against her.

Brenda Bryant. Greenville News.

We had a telephone conversation with a fugitive from “justice.”

This is a story about a persecuted mother, questionable orders, less than honorable court officials, lies, deceit, back-stabbing, concealment of facts and a woman living in exile.

The above opening describes the current situation for 65-year-old former Lexington County resident Brenda Bryant.

Brenda & Rickey Bryant

Brenda reached out to tell her story as she is living in a non-disclosed location to avoid being arrested once more.

Her story begins in 1993. Brenda is the mother of a special needs daughter by the name of Stephanie. In the court documents that will be quoted here Stephanie’s name was changed to Madison to protect her as she was a victim of sexual assault.

Brenda describes her daughter’s reading comprehension being on a 1st-grade level even into adulthood at the age of 45 years old. She also says that her daughter has the mind of a 7-to-10-year-old.

“It is undisputed that Madison (Appellant), now thirty-two years old, is a mentally retarded woman with disabilities and special needs. Babcock Center, Inc. (Babcock Center), its employee Michelle Batchelor, and the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (Department) in their answers admit Appellant “has been diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded” and is a “person with disabilities and special needs.” “

Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. . FindLaw. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/sc-supreme-court/1212835.html

Removal of Stephanie Bryant

Stephanie was removed from Lexington High School by a South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN) case manager in October of 1993, Brenda says. Prior to her being removed from the school, Brenda says that she had DDSN case managers approaching her with requests to place Stephanie in a group home. Mrs. Bryant refused the requests.

Lexington High School

When Stephanie turned 18 Brenda noticed that there was an increase in requests for her to place her daughter into a group home, she says. Brenda says she continuously turned down the requests and yet those refusals were met with even more requests.

According to Brenda, after Stephanie was taken from the school, she signed herself into the state’s care as she was 18-years-old at that time. She also says that the DDSN case manager allegedly coerced Stephanie into voluntarily committing herself into DDSN care.

Brenda says she didn’t know that she needed guardianship of someone when they were 18-years-old and still in high school. She also says that she didn’t know that she needed guardianship of her own child when she turned 18. Also, she says she believed that given Stephanie’s obvious mental condition that she could not live on her own.

“A probate court judge in 1997 issued an order appointing Appellant’s mother as her guardian and conservator. The judge found Appellant was mentally retarded and lacked the capacity to exercise good judgment with regard to her person, assets, and financial affairs.”

Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. Find Law. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/sc-supreme-court/1212835.html

Brenda says that she requested to know the whereabouts of Stephanie during a three month period where there was no contact, no phone calls and no visits from Stephanie. She says that as a mother she was worried about her daughter who, according to court documents, was incapable of caring for and protecting herself. For 18 years Brenda says she was Stephanie’s protector and that, seemingly overnight, she was stripped of her role as a mother. Brenda describes the actions of DDSN as a, “kidnapping.”

“Appellant was voluntarily admitted as a client in 1994, when she was twenty years old, to a residential home managed by Babcock Center.   Babcock Center is a private, non-profit corporation based in Columbia that provides housing and other services for people with autism, mental retardation, head or spinal injuries, or related disabilities.”

Madison Bryant v. Babock Center Inc. Find Law. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/sc-supreme-court/1212835.html

After the three month period of no contact from her daughter, Brenda says she was overjoyed when she finally got a chance to talk on the phone with her. Brenda says that Stephanie informed her that she had to sneak away to place that phone call.

Brenda says that she notified DDSN that Stephanie wanted to have regular contact with her mother. It was then that Brenda learned that her daughter had been placed in the Babcock Center group home for disabilities in Lexington, South Carolina. Brenda was then allowed to go visit Stephanie at the group home.

Brenda learned that Stephanie had complaints about abuse. The allegations ranged from sexual assault to physical abuse such as assault from staff and other residents. When Brenda became aware of the allegations she reported what her daughter told her to DDSN. Brenda specifically reported the abuse allegations to DDSN’s attorney at the time, Aphrodite K. Konduros, she says.

       The Babcock Center has a history of employees abusing residents. WLTX News. https://www.wltx.com/article/news/local/5-charged-in-connection-to-assaults-of-vulnerable-adults-at-babcock-center/101-598667866

Stephanie Bryant’s Rape

In 1995, Brenda says that Stephanie escaped the group home at approximately 2:00 A.M. on a Tuesday morning. The group home, according to Brenda, was supposed to perform “bed checks” or accountability counts every 15 minutes. Stephanie’s disappearance wasn’t discovered until the following morning during breakfast time. Stephanie’s escape was reported to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

“On August 30, 1995, Appellant, then twenty-one years old, placed her luggage on the front porch of the Babcock Center home and went to bed fully clothed. After everyone was asleep, she secretly slipped out of the house sometime after 1 a.m. and left in a car with two men who either lived or recently had lived in a home managed by Babcock Center. “

Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. Find Law. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/sc-supreme-court/1212835.html

According to Brenda, Stephanie was picked up by a man named Steven Knour and two others. She says that these men took her daughter to a half-way house in Richland County.

That was when the story turns dark. Brenda says that Stephanie was then raped by these men. The reason why Brenda says her daughter was raped is due to the fact that her daughter could not have consented given her mental state. Not to mention, her daughter even professed to have been raped.

“Appellant’s mother testified that, prior to August 30, 1995, she personally made repeated complaints about the sexual contacts to staff at the Babcock Center home where Appellant lived, Babcock Center director Risley Linder, and James Hill, Department’s general counsel.”

Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. Find Law. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/sc-supreme-court/1212835.html

Brenda says the men returned Stephanie back to the Babcock group home. When Stephanie was discovered Brenda says she found her daughter in tears.

Brenda says that her daughter told her something that haunts her to this very day.

Her daughter said, “Mama! Mama! I’ve been raped!”

“On August 30, 1995, Appellant, then twenty-one years old, placed her luggage on the front porch of the Babcock Center home and went to bed fully clothed. After everyone was asleep, she secretly slipped out of the house sometime after 1 a.m. and left in a car with two men who either lived or recently had lived in a home managed by Babcock Center. Another woman already was in the car. Appellant believed the four of them planned to go to an unknown location and set up housekeeping on their own.   Instead, the other woman was taken home a short while later after an argument. Appellant and the two men went to a house, where she had sex with one or both of them. Appellant initially told police and her mother she was raped, but testified at a deposition in this case she was “talked into having sex.” Appellant returned to her Babcock Center home the following morning. Appellant alleges she was a virgin when she was admitted to the Babcock Center home. She contracted herpes simplex type I, a sexually transmitted disease, after one or more sexual encounters with men while staying at the Babcock Center home.”

Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. Find Law. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/sc-supreme-court/1212835.html

Stephanie was taken to the Lexington Medical Center in 1995. A rape kit was administered and the results showed serious damage to Stephanie that was severe along with bleeding. The incident was reported to the Richland County Sheriff’s department.

Brenda says that officials from the Babcock group home arrived at the Lexington Medical Center and told the hospital that they had guardianship and custody of Stephanie.

Lexington Medical Center

The officials, according to Brenda, also said that both she and her husband, Rickey Bryant, had no rights to visit Stephanie. Brenda says that she and her husband were not even allowed to stay at the hospital to visit Stephanie despite the fact that Brenda was being informed that the rape kit administered to her daughter was showing evidence of a sexual assault.

Brenda says that after she left the Lexington Medical Center she visited the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. She made a report with the Richland Sheriff’s department about Stephanie’s sexual assault case along with the report already generated at the hospital.

Brenda says she met with Investigator Frank Hemming. She says that Investigator Hemming was very compassionate because he had a sister who was also a special needs person.

She says that herself, her husband and the investigator went to the then Richland County Solicitor Barney Giese.

Brenda recalls that Mr. Giese refused to prosecute the men that Brenda says raped Stephanie. She says that Mr. Giese’s reasoning for not prosecuting these men was because Stephanie was “a fully competent mentally disabled person.”

She says that she met with the then Richland County Sheriff Allen Sloan and spoke with him about the situation. According to Brenda, Mr. Sloan said, “We can’t do anything because the solicitor is refusing to prosecute.” Brenda, as expected, was outraged by this but not at Allen Sloan specifically but because she felt that the men who she says raped her daughter had not faced justice.

She says that she became angrier when she discovered that her daughter had contracted a sexually transmitted disease from one of the men involved.

As a result of Mr. Giese’s unwillingness to prosecute the men who Brenda says raped her daughter, Brenda decided to bring a lawsuit against the Babcock Center, who was under DDSN contract, and also DDSN in 1997.

According to Brenda, DDSN and Babcock Center argued that Stephanie was a, “fully competent mentally disabled person.” DDSN and the Babcock Center argued this in front of Judge Casey Manning, she says.

Judge Manning, according to Brenda and court documents, dismissed the lawsuit.

“The judge ruled in two separate orders that, as a matter of law, Respondents “had no legal duty to maintain a constant watch over the plaintiff so as to prevent her surreptitious elopement.” Furthermore, the proximate cause of any damages suffered by Appellant, as a matter of law, was Appellant’s “own voluntary and intentional acts.””

Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. Find Law. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/sc-supreme-court/1212835.html

According to the supreme court opinion, Judge Manning ruled that, essentially, Stephanie was responsible for any sexual activities that she engaged in despite the fact that she clearly could not have consented given her mental capacity which, again, matches that of a 7-to-10-year-old. By any definition, since Stephanie could not have possibly given consent and given the results of the rape kit, Stephanie was in fact raped, Brenda says. She also says that it is important to remember that, by this time, she was already ruled mentally incompetent by a probate court in 1997. Yet, she says, Judge Manning ignored this prior ruling.

“A probate court judge in 1997 issued an order appointing Appellant’s mother as her guardian and conservator. “The judge found Appellant was mentally retarded and lacked the capacity to exercise good judgment with regard to her person, assets, and financial affairs.”

Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. Find Law. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/sc-supreme-court/1212835.html

Brenda says that after Judge Manning dismissed the case she brought against the Babcock Center and DDSN she filed a notice of appeal to the South Carolina Court of Appeals in 2000, she believes. After she filed the notice, the South Carolina Supreme Court took up the case because she says there had never been a precedent set regarding the question of the duty of care provided by state agencies.

 

Madison Bryant V. Babcock Center Inc.

In 2005, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard her case. According to court documents, DDSN and Babcock center argued before the Supreme Court that they owed “no duty” to Stephanie or any client under their care.

“Appellant argues the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment to Babcock Center on the ground it owes no legal duty of care to Appellant, a mentally retarded client voluntarily admitted to the center’s care. Babcock Center has a duty to exercise reasonable care in supervising and providing care and treatment to clients in its custody. We agree. We conclude the circuit court erred in accepting Respondents’ argument that Babcock Center either had a “twenty-four-hour, eyes-on” duty of supervision-i.e., an extremely high and rigorous duty-or no duty at all. The circuit court in its order repeatedly described the purported duty as one of maintaining “constant watch” over Appellant. Appellant at the summary judgment hearing contended the duty was one of reasonable supervision, but the circuit court and Respondents appeared overly focused on the “high duty” versus “no duty” positions.”

Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. Find Law. https://caselaw.findlaw.com/sc-supreme-court/1212835.html

Brenda says that she won her case via the Supreme Court decision. She says that she is thankful to have won this court victory, not just for Stephanie, but for every mentally disabled person who may end up in the care of a state agency.

She says that people should know that a state-sponsored agency and Babcock Center made the argument that they were not responsible for the care of a person who voluntarily admitted herself (though Brenda says that Stephanie was coerced into voluntary admission) and was mentally unable to care for herself.

She also says that it is scary that a state agency made the argument that they didn’t have to provide care, protection and, at the very least, supervision of a person who she didn’t even want to be in their care. Brenda says she is aware of all the current and past allegations, arrests and convictions of Babcock Center employees as it pertains to the abuse of those in their care.

According to Brenda, the case was then remanded back to Judge Manning so that Stephanie could get a trial for justice. She says that what would have fit the definition of justice has been denied for over 25 years and now she says she has been persecuted for fighting for Stephanie and other mentally disabled people who cannot speak for themselves.

Judge Edward Sauvain

After the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in Brenda’s favor, the Babcock Center settled out of court for $250,000. She says that after she won her case that’s when the retaliation began.

“It was like they said ‘how dare you sue us and win’ after we got the settlement,” she says.

Ever since Brenda won her landmark supreme court case for Stephanie she says she has experienced retaliation on levels that are malicious and, in some cases, she describes some of the actions taken as pure evil.

Judge Edward Miller

In April 2008, according to court documents, Judge Edward Sauvain made Theresa Horton the guardian ad litem for Stephanie.

Brenda says when filed to set up a trust fund for Stephanie that was when he appointed the guardian ad litem. 

She says she was Stephanie’s guardian for 11 years without any issues and without any allegations of abuse. Yet, somehow, Judge Sauvain saw fit to appoint Theresa Horton as guardian ad litem who then recommended that Brenda be removed as Stephanie’s guardian and replaced by Tracy Parsons.

Brenda says she found this to be odd given the fact that she was still her daughter’s guardian. That was when, Brenda claims, that she was being drained of money in a way that she couldn’t describe as anything else but retaliation to recoup funds that she gained through the settlement.

 

Legal Trouble

Brenda tells us she appealed to the removal of her guardianship in 2008. Judge John Few, now justice for the SC Supreme Court, remanded the case back to Judge Sauvain for a new hearing on the grounds that Judge Sauvain ignored evidence that a South Carolina Ombudsmen had found that Stephanie Bryant had been emotionally abused and coerced against her mother by Theresa Horton and Greenville Disability. 

Brenda was reappointed as guardian after Theresa Horton and Tracy Parsons both decided to resign from the case. Theresa Horton relinquished a $90,000 fee for 1 year. Tracy Parsons billed Brenda $10,000.

Brenda says that Judge Sauvain decided to try to make her pay $10,000 or go to jail. She also says that Tracy Parsons charged $85 an hour.

Given the fact that Parsons admitted that Stephanie Bryant was assaulted while in her guardianship Brenda believed that she shouldn’t have to pay for anything. She says that nobody should pay money to a person that allowed her daughter to be abused and yet took so long to reveal that abuse. Brenda says that Parsons didn’t visit Stephanie much at all and Brenda knew this because her daughter was contacting her with that information.

Judge Sauvain had Brenda Byrant arrested in court in a rule to show cause case for failing to pay the court-appointed guardian. 

Bryant spent 30 days in jail. She paid the guardian fee to Parsons with a portion of the settlement fund. Brenda says she didn’t give up the money happily and expressed her dissatisfaction with what she would describe as an injustice.

“How can you ask me to pay a woman who admitted that through her own negligence my daughter got hit when she was already traumatized from her being raped?” she asked.

DDSN filed a motion to remove Brenda Bryant as Stephanie Bryant’s guardian, Bryant says. According to court documents, Judge James Barber granted the request by DDSN and Bryant was removed as guardian.

Brenda says she was in shock. She says that, once again, she was separated from her daughter without any justification.

The simple fact is that if Brenda Bryant was removed as Stephanie’s guardian then that would mean that she could no longer represent Stephanie in the DDSN lawsuit for rape. In other words, what Brenda is describing is a situation where several people, judges included, have systematically silenced her and denied Stephanie any resemblance of justice. 

 

 

Brenda Bryant’s Incarceration

Brenda Bryant’s attorney, Alice Perkins, filed a lawsuit against Greenville Disability, DDSN, Tracy Parsons and Theresa Horton. The reason for the lawsuit was due to, what she says, was the assault and abuse Stephanie experienced while in a state-sponsored care facility and the negligence displayed by Tracy Parsons. 

After filing the lawsuit, and not serving the lawsuit, Tracy Parson’s attorney, Rodney Pillsbury, filed a motion to dismiss the case and for his own legal fees.

In 2010, Judge Edward Miller, according to Brenda, had evidence that Tracy Parsons failed in her duty as guardian by not protecting Stephanie from assault and abuse of a physical, emotional and sexual nature. Judge Miller dismissed the case and ignored the evidence and testimonies given, she says. 

In 2012, Judge Miller decided to issue a bench warrant for Bryant’s arrest for failure to pay for Parson’s attorney fees.

Buncombe County Detention Center

According to arrest records, Brenda was arrested in Asheville, N.C., approximately 160 miles away from Lexington, SC and booked into the Buncombe County Detention Center in North Carolina. 

Despite the fact that Brenda Bryant had never been arrested for anything violent messages sent to Buncombe County claimed that Bryant had “violent tendencies.” Apparently, the state of South Carolina has individuals who believe that a 60+-year-old woman is somehow a physical threat.

After her release, Bryant has been forced into exile. She can’t return and if she does she risks being arrested.

She has been sentenced to 1 year to death for a civil contempt violation. 

Three years ago, Bryant’s 69-year-old husband, Rickey Bryant, had his 3rd heart attack. Hospital records show Mr. Bryant was placed into an intensive care unit in critical condition after the massive heart attack.

Bryant says she called Judge Edward Miller and asked if he could allow her to come home to see her husband. She says she feared her husband would die and that she wouldn’t be by his side in his final moments.

“The judge emailed me that if I paid $9000 that I could come home. I didn’t have the money. I’m on a fixed income. I was 62 years old at the time. I just didn’t have the money,” she says.

 

Impact of the Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. Case

This South Carolina Supreme Court victory was used in several different cases involving the abuse and neglect.

In 2011, there was a South Carolina Supreme Court case where the decision in the Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. precedent was cited.

This case was Doe v. Walmart.

Walmart claimed that they had no duty to protect its customers despite the fact that, according to court documents, they hired a sex offender.

“Once a duty has been established, it is the further function of the court to determine and formulate the standard of conduct to which the duty requires the defendant to conform.  57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 132.  “The fact finder may consider relevant standards of care from various sources in determining whether a defendant breached a duty owed to an injured person in a negligence case.”  Madison ex rel. Bryant v. Babcock Center, Inc., 371 S.C. 123, 140, 638 S.E.2d 650, 659 (2006).  “The standard of care in a given case may be established and defined by the common law, statutes, administrative regulations, industry standards, or a defendant’s own policies and guidelines.”  Id. (citing Peterson v. Natl. R.R. Passenger Corp., 365 S.C. 391, 397, 618 S.E.2d 903, 906 (2005).  It follows that, if no duty has been established, evidence as to the standard of care is irrelevant.  Only when there is a duty would a standard of care need to be established.”

Doe v. Walmart. Justia. https://law.justia.com/cases/south-carolina/supreme-court/2011/26993.html

In fact, the Madison Bryant v. Babcock Center Inc. case has been cited all across the country and all the way to the Virgin Islands.

 

Brenda Bryant – In Her Own Words

Bryant opened up about how this experience has changed her life.

“I haven’t been home in 8 years. I’m 65 years old. I can’t even walk in my own yard. I can’t go home. I can’t be with my husband or my daughter. I’m not getting any younger. They can take my freedom but you can’t have my soul or my spirit,” Bryant told us.

This woman hasn’t been home in 8 years and she says it is because of retaliation directed her way.

While we cannot objectively say this is the case there is one thing that is clear and that is the fact that Brenda Bryant’s case against DDSN and Babcock was an important case that set a very important precedent. Care facilities are not allowed to pass the buck when it comes to the supervision and care of residents residing in those facilities.

If it were not for the supreme court case Brenda Bryant waged against DDSN and Babcock Center Inc. it isn’t certain if facilities like this would think that it is okay to not take any responsibility for the residents with several mental disabilities such as Stephanie Bryant.

Brenda Bryant says she wants to return home and be a South Carolinian again just like she was for most of her life. Brenda didn’t tell us her location, and, if we are being completely honest, we don’t want to know. Until we know Brenda Bryant won’t be prosecuted we will never tell of her location.

She says that her husband, Rickey Bryant, who has survived three massive heart attacks has been separated from his wife for 8 years. She says that Judge Miller that issued the bench warrant was very aware of Mr. Bryant’s illnesses and specifically the heart conditions.

“It is cruel. I’m 65 years old and my husband is almost 70 years old. We are a senior couple but we are very much in love. I want to come home to see my husband again because he needs me. I want to see my daughter again because she needs me. I want to see my yard again. I want to walk into my own house again. I want to eat the food I love in my own home and with my loved ones.”

Brenda Bryant

Bryant says she is now an advocate for sexual assault victims. She says she was a victim of sexual assault as a child.

“You either become a victim or you become an advocate. I choose to be an advocate. That’s why I sued Babcock. I thought of my child being helpless and knowing she can’t fend for herself being subjected to abuse and those people treating her like she doesn’t matter. Yet, they were being paid more than $100,000 a year to care for her,” she says.

Bryant says that the Babcock Center was forwarded Stephanie’s social security check every month. In other words, according to court documents, the Babcock Center was in fact receiving Stephanie’s social security money yet this same organization claims to have, “no duty of care.”

She says that she is an optimist and that no amount of persecution is going to kill her spirit.

“This is not the end but, instead, it is the beginning of judicial reform and justice,” Bryant says.

13 thoughts on “Enemy of the State: South Carolina’s Ongoing Persecution of a Mother

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