Black Man With History of Mental Illness Found Dead in Virginia Jail Cell

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Black Man With History of Mental Illness Found Dead in Virginia Jail Cell.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) — A jail official in Portsmouth says a man awaiting transfer to a state mental health facility for months was found dead in his cell. Police are investigating the death in a Virginia jail of a mentally ill black man, who was incarcerated for four months after allegedly stealing $5 worth of snacks, police officials in the city of Portsmouth said Friday. The 24-year-old Mitchell’s body is still awaiting an autopsy, but his family believe that he starved to death after refusing to eat or take his medication. “His body failed,” Mitchell’s aunt, Roxanne Adams, a registered nurse, said in an interview with the Guardian. “It is extraordinary. The department is waiting for the results of an autopsy, Detective Misty Holley, spokeswoman for the Portsmouth, Virginia, police department, told Al Jazeera.

Jamycheal Mitchell, who had mental health problems, was discovered lying on the floor of his cell by guards early last Wednesday, according to authorities. Mitchell’s family had not been able to visit him in jail, because he had not given officials his relatives’ names as approved visitors. “His mind was gone because he wasn’t taking his meds, so he didn’t have a list for anyone to see him,” Adams said. Mitchell was arrested on April 22 this year for allegedly stealing a Mountain Dew, a Zebra cake and a Snickers bar from a 7-11 convenience store, according to The Guardian, adding that the 24-year-old’s family said they believe he died of malnutrition. On the same day of Mitchell’s arrest, Portsmouth police officer Stephen Rankin shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old William Chapman outside a Walmart. The person I saw deceased was not even the same person.” Corrections and court officials were aware of Mitchell’s mental illness, and a judge in May ordered Mitchell transferred to Eastern State Hospital, deeming him too ill to stand trial — but this never happened, The Guardian reported. “He was just deteriorating so fast,” Adams told the paper. “I kept calling the jail, but they said they couldn’t transfer him because there were no available beds.

But the hospital said it had no vacancy and the 24-year-old was therefore detained in jail until his death on 19 August, according to Adams, Mitchell’s aunt, who said she had tried to assist the hospitalisation process herself but was left frustrated. Asked which agency was ultimately accountable for ensuring Mitchell’s transfer to the hospital, the clerk said, “It’s hard to tell who’s responsible for it.” Senior prison officials said his death was not being treated as suspicious. “As of right now it is deemed ‘natural causes,’” said Natasha Perry, the master jail officer at the Hampton Roads regional jail. Except for a brief item stating that an inmate had been found dead, the story of Mitchell’s death has not been covered by local media in Virginia, and is reported for the first time here. His death comes as law enforcement officials nationwide are rethinking how courts treat low-level, nonviolent offenses like the one Mitchell allegedly committed.

Nicknamed Weezy, he lived with his mother Sonia and had been unable to hold down work. “He just chain-smoked and made people laugh,” said Adams. “He never did anything serious, never harmed anybody.” Officials said that after his arrest, Mitchell was taken to Portsmouth city jail, where he stayed for almost three weeks before being transferred across the city to the regional jail on 11 May. In New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, a homeless man arrested for trespassing died last year of heat exhaustion in a solitary confinement cell with a malfunctioning heating system that made the room dangerously warm. The 56-year-old homeless man, Jerome Murdough — a Vietnam veteran who also suffered from mental illness — was arrested in February 2015 for trespassing in a building where he was apparently looking for a warm place to sleep. She said Mitchell returned to the jail in January 2012, again on a petty larceny charge, before being released in May 2012 having spent a month in a state hospital.

She said prison officials then prescribed him the antipsychotic drug Haldol and Cogentin, which is intended to reduce the side-effects of the other medication, but he refused to take the drugs. She said she saw Mitchell in court in recent weeks and estimated that he had lost 65 pounds since being detained. “He was extremely emaciated,” said Adams. Asked to confirm the family’s claims about Mitchell deteriorating after declining food and medication, Perry said: “I don’t have that information.” She referred inquiries to the jail’s medical office, where an official who gave her name as Ms Thomas said: “I can not divulge any information relating to this patient.” Perry said the 24-year-old had been housed alone in a regular jail cell comprising a bunk with a mattress, a toilet, a sink, a shelf and a slit-like window.

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