Portsmouth, VA – A 24-year-old mentally ill black man died in a Virginia jail last Wednesday. He had spent four months at a regional facility for allegedly stealing $5 worth of snacks from a convenience store. While jail officials say his body had “no obvious signs of injury,” according to his family he had refused food and medication due to his mental state. His body “deteriorated” until he died, though the jail where he died claims to specialize in mentally ill inmates.
An autopsy has not yet been conducted.
Jamycheal Mitchell’s body was found in his jail cell early Wednesday morning and according to Natasha Perry, the Master Jail Officer at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, he died of “natural causes.” Mitchell, who according to his aunt suffered from both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was held without bail for four months on misdemeanor charges of petty larceny and trespassing. He allegedly stole a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar, and a Zebra cake from a 7-11.
Jamycheal was arrested on similar charges in 2010 and served four months until a judge ordered his release. He returned to jail in January of 2012 and was set free in May of that same year after spending a month at a state hospital. He was never charged with a violent offense.
According to the Guardian, officials say Mitchell was held at Portsmouth City Jail for nearly three weeks after his arrest on April 22 of this year. On May 11, he was transferred across the city to Hampton Road. Ten days after that, Judge Morton Whitlow ruled he was unfit to stand trial and ordered him sent to a mental health facility in Williamsburg.
Eastern State Hospital allegedly said it had no vacancy, so Mitchell was held in jail without bail. According to the court clerk, on July 31, Whitlow reissued his order to transfer Mitchell and was set to review the misdemeanor case again on September 4th. Whitlow’s order was never completed and Mitchell remained at Hampton Road, where he died on August 19. The Guardian noted that when it broke the story, one local outlet had published a vague announcement of the death, but otherwise, the media was silent (other outlets have since covered the story).
Roxanne Adams, Mitchell’s aunt, said she continually called the jail and was told he could not be transferred because there were no available beds. But when she called the hospital, they seemed to be completely out of the loop. “I kept calling the jail, but they said they couldn’t transfer him because there were no available beds,” she said. “So I called Eastern State, too, and people there said they didn’t know anything about the request or not having bed availability.”
“He was just deteriorating so fast,” she said, saying a prison official informed her he had stopped eating. Adams, a registered nurse, said that when she saw him in court in recent weeks, he was “emaciated” and had lost about 65 pounds. “His body failed,” she said of his death. “It is extraordinary. The person I saw deceased was not even the same person.” Adams said her nephew had practically no muscle mass left by the time of his death.
Adams had been taking antipsychotic drugs Prolixin and Zyprexin and mood stabilizer Depakote before he went to jail. She said prison officials attempted to administer antipsychotic drug Haldol (and Cogentin, intended to reduce the side-effects of Haldol) to him, but that he refused to take the drugs.
She described Mitchell as harmless. “He just chain-smoked and made people laugh,” she said. “He never did anything serious, never harmed anybody.” She said Mitchell, nicknamed Weezy, developed bipolar disorder and schizophrenia five years ago and was since unable to keep a job. He lived with his mother, who along with most of his family, was unable to see him while he was in jail because he failed to add their names to his contact list. “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.
Maria Reppas, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, refused to explain to the Guardian why there were no beds at the hospital, citing HIPAA and patient privacy.
According the Urban Institute, over half of all inmates in American jails and state prisons have some form of mental illness — the most prevalent of which are depressive disorders. In a country where the incarcerated population has increased 500% in the last 30 years, it is unsurprising that authorities are not concerned with what treatment is best for mentally ill individuals. Feigned reverence for authority and “following the law” obliterates any possibility of compassion from the state. Ironically, Hampton Road’s website claims it “…houses the majority of the four cities’ inmates with severe medical and mental health needs and essentially serves as the medical and mental health correctional facility for the member cities.”
A report published by the Urban Institute in April noted that “only one in three state prisoners and one in six jail inmates who suffer from mental health problems report having received mental-health treatment since admission.“
Correctional officers around the country have been caught abusing mentally ill inmates, who are often African American. One mentally ill homeless veteran “baked to death” after being held in a hot cell. Just recently, a band of guards called “The Beat Up Squad” beat a mentally ill black inmate (and threw him down a flight of stairs) until he died of “cardiac arrhythmia.” Whether the mentally ill — or anyone for that matter — are dying behind bars as a result of sadistic guard or pure negligence — as appears to be the case in the story of Mitchell — both reasons are completely intolerable, if not predictable.
The state prides itself on being a shepherd of the people, yet its treatment of the mentally ill behind bars highlights its utter inability to live up to this responsibility. The Portsmouth court clerk’s summarized this ineptitude when asked who was responsible for making sure Mitchell reached Eastern State Hospital: “It’s hard to tell who’s responsible for it,” she said.
Attorney Mark Krudys reportedly met with Mitchell’s family on Friday and intends to file a request for records to determine what may have caused his death. “It’s obvious that he did not receive the help that he needed,” he said. “That’s the main issue.”
Carey Wedler joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in September of 2014. Her topics of interest include the police and warfare states, the Drug War, the relevance of history to current problems and solutions, and positive developments that drive humanity forward. Living at her place of birth, she currently resides in Los Angeles, California. Learn more about Wedler here!