A Virginia jail recorded over video footage outside the cell where a 'severely emaciated' man died in custody
In April 2015, 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell was arrested on charges of stealing $5 worth of food from a 7-Eleven.
Four months later, Mitchell was found dead in his jail cell at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia.
The jail is now saying that video footage taken outside the cell no longer exists after the jail allowed the video to be automatically taped over, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which requested a copy of the video through a Freedom of Information Act request.
"There is no security footage taken outside of Mr. Mitchell's cell during his incarceration at Hampton Roads Regional Jail," Superintendent David L. Simons wrote to the Times-Dispatch in response to its request.
The footage was thought to potentially reveal what type of medical care Mitchell received in his cell, how often he was monitored and given food, and whether he returned his trays empty, an attorney for Mitchell's family told the Times-Dispatch. Mark Krudys sent a letter to the jail 14 days after Mitchell's death requesting that it preserve the footage.
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"You have a death of a severely emaciated person who was mentally ill in his cell," Krudys said. "Those circumstances are highly unusual, and you would have thought they would have preserved anything and everything related to those circumstances, including the videotape."
Following Mitchell's April 2015 arrest, a judge ruled he was not competent to stand trial for his misdemeanor charges of petty larceny and trespassing, The Guardian reported. Mitchell then spent nearly four months in the Hampton Roads regional jail awaiting a transfer to Eastern State hospital for treatment, though the facility had no vacancies. The Guardian reported that neither court officials, the Portsmouth police department, nor the jail could explain why Mitchell had not been given the opportunity to be released on bail.
Mitchell's family told The Guardian he suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and, by his death, had lost nearly 50 pounds during his detention. His family said jail officials told them Mitchell had declined meals and refused to take the medication prescribed to him, which included the antipsychotics Haldol and Cogentin.
An autopsy confirmed that the causes of his death were a heart defect and "wasting syndrome" — meaning extreme weight loss — the medical examiner's office in Norfolk told the Times-Dispatch.
One jail official argued that there was no reason to preserve the footage showing the door of Mitchell's cell because the jail saved the images only when there's "something significant" to review.
"If there's nothing on the video that's going to show any type of criminality or negligence, we're not going to maintain it," the jail's assistant superintendent, Lt. Col. Eugene Taylor III, told the Times-Dispatch. He added that the video system used during Mitchell's detention would automatically record over the existing footage every 18 days.
The dispute over the footage is not the first time the jail has come under fire since Mitchell's death. The incident sparked investigations by the state inspector general and Virginia's Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services into the care Mitchell received at the jail and why he hadn't been transferred to the hospital, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
"The more I learn, the more I don't like," Virginia Delegate Peter Farrell told The Virginian-Pilot last month. "And it seems like nobody wants to stand up and take responsibility for it in any upfront way."
Farrell said the jail did not provide Mitchell with basic medical care. In a hearing with lawmakers, one of the investigators charged with reviewing the incident said Mitchell was most likely not the only inmate to suffer neglect in the jail.
In April, Virginia's state inspector general delivered a 16-page report to Gov. Terry McAulifferegarding Mitchell's death and the state's procedures for referring and admitting Hampton Roads inmates to the Eastern State hospital. The report found "multiple, significant risk points" involved in transferring inmates from the jail to the hospital, problems with the "maintenance and accuracy" of the jail transfer waiting list, and "significant concerns" in the quality of NaphCare, the jail's former medical and mental-health care provider. It also found that a set of recommendations made in 2014 to improve the state justice system's interactions with inmates with behavioral health issues were never implemented.
But on Monday, Virginia's Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services — which conducted its own investigation released before the state inspector general's — released an eight-page response to the state inspector general's report claiming it was not authorized to make the changes recommended by the state inspector general.
"It is not possible to produce the array of community services needed while Virginia lags so far below the rest of the nation for spending on community behavioral health services," the department's interim commissioner, Jack Barber, wrote in the response.
"If [the state inspector general's report] does not clearly delineate where other responsible agencies must share their part in the change efforts [the department] is concerned that lawmakers, advocates and the general public will continuously be frustrated about the inability to make meaningful progress."