The Hampton Roads jail, where a mentally ill young man died last year awaiting a psychiatric hospital bed, is under investigation by the Justice Department.
Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, was accused of stealing $5.05 worth of snacks from a 7-Eleven near his family’s home in Portsmouth, Va., in April 2015. A judge ordered Mitchell, who had stopped taking his schizophrenia medication, sent to a psychiatric hospital.
But Mitchell stayed in the Virginia jail while waiting for an open bed. Five months later, he was dead, having lost 36 pounds. Mark Krudys, an attorney for Mitchell’s family, said Mitchell’s cell was soaked with urine when his body was found.
The federal probe is focused on whether the jail violates the rights of the mentally ill by putting them in isolation and denying them proper services.
“All prisoners, including those with mental illness, have a constitutional right to receive necessary medical care, treatment and services,” Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement Monday.
Prosecutors in the Eastern District of Alexandria are working with the Civil Rights Division on the investigation.
“Prisoners with mental illness are a particularly vulnerable population, and their rights must be safeguarded,” U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said in a statement on Monday.
After Mitchell’s death, officials at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail told The Washington Post that Mitchell received proper treatment and had not alerted jail staff members to health problems. “Food was delivered to his cell,” said Lt. Col. Eugene Taylor, assistant superintendent at the jail. “He could have flushed meals.”
Taylor said the jail could not say for sure that Mitchell was eating, but he also said Mitchell did not complain that he was losing weight.
An audit by the Virginia Office of the Inspector General found that nurses at the jail did not treat severe edema in one of Mitchell’s legs, failed to note his alarming weight loss and relied on the acutely psychotic inmate to report health problems or suicidal thoughts himself.
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) requested a Justice Department investigation in September, noting Mitchell’s death and that of 60-year-old Henry Stewart in the same jail this August. The Virginian-Pilot reported Stewart’s repeated requests for medical treatment were denied; he died of a perforated ulcer.
Since then, Taylor and the jail’s superintendent have stepped down and procedures at the jail have been changed so that a central medical staff member rather than jail staff is responsible for care requests.
Mark Krudys, who represents the Mitchell and Stewart families, said he has heard many more complaints about the jail from inmates and their relatives.
“We do believe that the problems at that jail are systemic,” Krudys said. “It’s really necessary for somebody like DOJ to come in and do a thorough investigation.”
Robert J. McCabe, interim superintendent of the jail, said, “We expected to hear from DOJ and look forward to cooperating with the DOJ investigation going forward.”
He added: “The Hampton Roads Regional Jail staff has been working tirelessly to improve jail operations and delivery of services. We are confident that DOJ will recognize the positive efforts being made.”