Young Black Man Jailed Since April for Alleged $5 Theft Is Found Dead in CellA young black man who reportedly had mental health problems was found dead in jail in Portsmouth, Va., after spending almost four months behind bars without bail on suspicion of stealing groceries worth $5.
A young black man with mental health problems was found dead in jail in Portsmouth, Va., after spending almost four months behind bars without bail on suspicion of stealing groceries worth $5.
Prison guards discovered Jamycheal Mitchell lying on the floor of his cell Wednesday. His family believes he starved to death after refusing meals and medication. Senior prison officials said they found no evidence of injury on Mitchell’s body and that his death was not being treated as suspicious.
Mitchell was being held on misdemeanor charges of petty larceny and trespassing in the theft of a bottle of Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake from a 7-Eleven. Local media had reported only that an inmate had been found dead; Mitchell’s death was fully reported first by The Guardian.
“His body failed,” said Mitchell’s aunt, Roxanne Adams, a registered nurse. “It is extraordinary. The person I saw deceased was not even the same person.” She said Mitchell had virtually no muscle mass when he died.
Adams said in an interview that her nephew had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for about five years. 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.
Ten days after that, the court clerk said, Judge Morton Whitlow ruled Mitchell was not competent to stand trial and ordered that he be transferred to Eastern State hospital, a state-run mental health facility in Williamsburg, for treatment.
The clerk said that typically in such cases “we do an order to restore the defendant to competence, send it to the hospital, and when the hospital has a bed, we do a transportation order, and he’s taken to the hospital.” Whitlow reiterated the order on 31 July and was due to review the case again on 4 September, according to the clerk.
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.
“He was just deteriorating so fast,” Adams said. “I kept calling the jail, but they said they couldn’t transfer him because there were no available beds. So I called Eastern State, too, and people there said they didn’t know anything about the request or not having bed availability.”
Asked which state agency was ultimately responsible for ensuring that Mitchell was transferred to the hospital, a court clerk said: “It’s hard to tell who’s responsible for it.”
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— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.Wait, before you go…
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