VA. NAMI, Former IG, Local NAACP Call For Fed Probe Of Mentally Ill Prisoner’s Death From Starvation In Virginia

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil2

(3-23-16) Mira Signer, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Virginia, has joined with former state mental health Inspector General G. Douglas Bevelacqua, and the Virginia NAACP Portsmouth chapter in calling for a Justice Department investigation into the horrific death of Jamycheal Mitchell, the 24 year-old African American who died in a Portsmouth jail waiting for a state hospital bed.

Yesterday, the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services released a troubling investigative report that showed Mitchell had literally been overlooked and forgotten while being held some four months in jail. An autopsy showed Mitchell had suffered a heart attack caused by starvation. He had lost more than 10 percent of his body weight while being incarcerated — more than 34 pounds.

This happened while he was under the care of a private for-profit firm, NAPHCARE, hired by the jail to provide mental health services to prisoners. The department also revealed that the employee who it had hired specifically to monitor inmates waiting for state hospital beds had not met with Mitchell the entire four months that he was in jail.

Sarah Kleiner, a reporter with the Richmond Times Dispatch, joined me in filing FOIA requests for information about the Mitchell case before the department finally released its report yesterday. In a story published this afternoon, Kleiner noted that a growing number of mental health advocates in Virginia are asking for federal investigators to step in.

Bringing in the feds would be a slap in the face for the Office of State Inspector General, which still has not released the results of its investigation,  and to the disAbility Law Center, which is Virginia’s Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Program. The disAbility Law Center has shown no public interest in the case and has not joined NAMI and the others in calling for a federal probe. The OSIG is supposed to be an independent investigative body but Bevelacqua resigned from his post there after he said his bosses soft pedaled his investigation of state Sen. Creigh Deeds’ preventable tragedy.

Bravo to Signer, Bevelacqua, the NAACP and Kleiner for keeping a spotlight in Richmond on the Mitchell case. It’s time for national NAMI and Mental Health America to join this call for full disclosure of what happened in that jail. How did a prisoner with a serious mental illness literally starve himself to death without someone intervening?

Advocates call for federal investigation of death of Va. man jailed for stealing junk food

Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 2:10 pm

A growing chorus of advocates across Virginia are calling for federal investigators to look into the death of a mentally and physically ill black man in Hampton Roads Regional Jail last August.

A former Virginia inspector general, the NAACP Portsmouth and a prominent mental health advocate said the Department of Justice should conduct an inquiry into 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell’s death, which has been under investigation by state officials for seven months.

“It is inexcusable that a mentally ill person should starve to death while incarcerated in a Virginia jail,” said G. Douglas Bevelacqua, a Virginia inspector general over behavioral health and developmental services from 2010 to 2014. “There is no explanation that will ease the shocking truth that the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth and the mental health providers from several organizations … failed to care for Jamycheal Mitchell.”

Bevelacqua led a four-month investigation into the state’s handling of Gus Deeds, a mentally ill 24-year-old who nearly killed his father, state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, before taking his own life in 2013.

In a statement, the NAACP Portsmouth called Mitchell’s death “one of the biggest civil and human rights violations of our time.”

“The events surrounding the death of JaMycheal Mitchell in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail are beyond disturbing and inhumane in nature,” said James P. Boyd, president of the organization. “We intend to seek an independent federal investigation to ensure accountability and improvements are executed.”

Calls for federal intervention were made on the heels of a report issued Monday by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which detailed several clerical errors leading up to Mitchell’s death.

Mira Signer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia, said she was sick to her stomach when she read the report.

“It’s gotten to that point where if the situation is so bad that a mentally ill inmate died because of gaps in the way that the system works … to me, that’s a systemic problem and it’s kind of by the grace of God that more people haven’t died under those circumstances,” Signer said. “It’s fair to say this deserves scrutiny from the highest levels, absolutely.”

A Department of Justice spokesperson was not immediately available Wednesday afternoon.

Mitchell died in his cell Aug. 19 of “probable cardiac arrhythmia accompanying wasting syndrome of unknown etiology,” according to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Norfolk. Wasting syndrome is defined as extreme weight loss.

“The Office of the Chief Medical examiner described Jamycheal as ‘nearly cachetic,’ a term normally used to describe gaunt patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, and certain other illnesses,” Mark Krudys, an attorney for Mitchell’s family, said in a statement.

Mitchell lost 34 pounds in the first three months of his four-month incarceration, Krudys said.

Mitchell was arrested April 22 for stealing a candy bar, a snack cake and a bottle of soda worth about $5 from a convenience store in Portsmouth.

A judge signed a competency restoration order May 21 requiring Mitchell’s treatment at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, according to the Behavioral Health Department report issued Monday.

The Portsmouth General District Court told investigators it mailed the judge’s order to Eastern State on May 27, according to the report. Investigators found no evidence the order was mailed or faxed or that it was received.

Another copy of the order was faxed to Eastern State on July 31, but none of the weekly logs of inmates waiting for a bed prepared on Aug. 4, Aug. 11 or Aug. 18 contained Mitchell’s name, according to the report.

An “overwhelmed” state employee placed the order in a desk drawer when she received the fax instead of adding Mitchell to the waiting list. The drawer contained a “significant number of CROs that had not been entered,” according to the report.

The employee’s identity has been redacted from the report. She found the file in her desk on Aug. 24, five days after Mitchell’s death. She retired from Eastern State about a month later.


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.