Why Hasn’t The Family Of Va. Man Who Starved Himself Been Told The Facts? Nearly 7 Months After Jamycheal Mitchell’s Death Still No Reports


Why haven’t two state agencies investigating the death of Jamycheal Mitchell, a 24 year-old Virginia man diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was found dead in his jail cell August 19, 2015, released the results of their investigations?

Mitchell was arrested on April 22, 2015 for trespassing and stealing a Mountain Dew soft drink, a Snickers Bar, and a Zebra Cake from a 7-Eleven on George Washington Highway in Portsmouth. A judge ruled that he was incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to be transferred to Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg to be made competent for trial. Instead, he died in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail 90 days after that order was sent. Inmates who saw him there told reporters that he spent his last days alone in the cell with feces smeared on the walls and urine on the floor.

Nine days after his body was discovered, jail officials issued a statement saying that they had found no evidence of wrongdoing by their correction officials. In December, the state medical examiner’s office released an autopsy report that concluded Mitchell died of “probable cardiac arrhythmia accompanying wasting syndrome of unknown etiology. ” Wasting syndrome is defined as a profound loss of weight, greater than 10 percent of a person’s original body weight.

Let’s review those statements. A healthy but psychotic young man is arrested for stealing $5 worth of food and jailed. During the four months that he is in custody he loses so much weight that his heart gives out. But no on in the jail who was responsible for watching him did anything wrong. Once again in Virginia, the public is told that if anyone is at fault, it is the mentally ill prisoner himself.

Last week, I sent FOIA requests to the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and the Office of the State Inspector General asking them for any documents and emails that they had in their possession that could explain Mitchell’s death.

The Inspector General’s office sent me this reply:

As this is an ongoing investigation, the information you have requested is exempt in compliance with Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.3[7], which states:

“7. Investigative notes, correspondence and information furnished in confidence, and records otherwise exempted by this chapter or any Virginia statute, provided to or produced by or for … (iv) the Office of the State Inspector General with respect to an investigation initiated through the Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline or an investigation initiated pursuant to Chapter 3.2 (§2.2-307 et seq.);”

It has been seven months since Mitchell died so I decided to look at the timing of other probes. I checked how long it had taken the Inspector General to investigate the November 19th, 2013 death of Gus Deeds, a big case since he was the son of state Sen. Creigh Deeds. It completed that probe on March 10th, 2014, or about four months after that avoidable tragedy.  I realize each case is different and some are clearly more complicated than others, but why is the state IG investigation taking longer than that case?

This is an especially troubling question because the state IG who investigated the Deeds case, G. Douglas Bevelacqua, resigned in protest when he claimed his bosses were ordering him to water down his report because it was critical of the DBHDS.  The IG is supposed to be both impartial and independent when it conducts investigations. Bevelacqua’s boss later acknowledged that he had conferred with DBHDS officials while that probe was ongoing without telling his own investigator. 

My FOIA request to the DBHDS was more forthcoming. Officials released emails that showed a for profit-company was responsible for providing medical/psychiatric services for individuals in the Portsmouth jail. That provider was identified as NaphCare, an Alabama based, correctional healthcare company. If you type the company’s name into the Internet, you will find a story entitled: The Deadly Health Care Services of NaphCare in Alabama, published in 2003 by Prison Legal News. It is not a flattering report. It states that the company was hit with “numerous lawsuits filed over the substandard and, at times, non-existent medical care they provided to their prisoner-clients” at 13 jail facilities in Alabama before its contract with the state was canceled.  That article and those incidents apparently have not damaged the company, which has expanded from Alabama into numerous states since 2003.

My FOIA request also revealed that the DBHDS had assigned one of his own employees to monitor activities inside the Portsmouth jail. The employee was hired in January 2014 to work ten to fifteen hours per week inside the jail because the state “was having challenges with the HNNSCB (Hampton Newport News Community Services Board, which delivers health care in the area) not quickly and consistently getting to the jail to triage restoration referrals.”

What that means in English is that jailed inmates with mental health issues were sitting in cells without being seen promptly and transferred to the state hospital. The employee was hired more than a year before Mitchell was found dead so the CSB and State were clearly aware that jail boarding had become a problem in Portsmouth.

That sounds a lot like the Mitchell case, doesn’t it?

Like the state IG’s office, the Department has not made public its investigation or issued a final report about what happened to Mitchell or why he was allowed to die in his own filth.

My request to a third state agency that is supposed to monitor care of persons with disabilities in state institutions has gone unanswered. It was sent to the disAbility Law Center, which is Virginia’s Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Program, created by the federal government to make certain persons were not being abused in institutions. It’s website states its mission is :

Through zealous and effective advocacy and legal representation:  protect and advance legal, human, and civil rights of persons with disabilities; combat and prevent abuse, neglect, and discrimination; and promote independence, choice, and self-determination by persons with disabilities.

I could find no evidence that its meager staff had launched any investigation into Mitchell’s death.

The public — and especially those of us with a family member who has a mental illness and has been arrested and jailed in Virginia — deserve a full explanation of what happened to Mitchell while he was in custody. Even more importantly, his family deserves to be told.

What possible explanation can there be for a prisoner to literally starve himself to death inside a “secure environment” where he is being watched and supposedly being monitored by medical officials?

You have to wonder if state Sen. Creigh Deeds $6 million dollar lawsuit against the state because of its bungling in his family’s case is part of the reason why neither the state IG or the DBHDS has made reports public. A positive spin would be that both want to be extra thorough because they realize that a young man died and someone needs to be held responsible. A cynic might think that they simply don’t want to release those reports because of what they are going to show.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.