Blaming A Seriously Mentally Ill Prisoner For His Own Death: Jamycheal Mitchell Had A Right To Refuse Treatment

(2-21-19) A new theory has emerged about why a 24-year old man with a serious mental illness died from apparent heart failure accompanied by a “wasting syndrome of unknown etiology.” Earlier news reports said Jamycheal Mitchell had starved while in a Virginia jail.

The latest theory: blame the victim.

In a 166-page report released this week, a local prosecutor said no criminal charges could be filed against the private firm responsible for providing healthcare to inmates inside the Hampton Roads Regional Jail because its staff was respecting Mitchell’s constitutional rights to refuse medical treatment.

Mitchell wasted away in 2015 after spending 100 days in the jail waiting to be transferred to a state mental hospital. He had been arrested for allegedly stealing $5.05 worth of snacks from a convenience store. His paperwork was delivered to a state hospital but was tossed into a desk drawer and overlooked until after his lifeless body was found in his jail cell.

The Virginia-Pilot quoted Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales in the report saying:

“He likely did not understand what could happen to him if he refused these treatments, yet under the existing scheme…companies like NaphCare (hired to provide medical services in the jail) can avoid criminal liability by claiming they followed proper informed consent procedures.”

Let’s review the known facts.

Mitchell was arrested. A judge ruled that he was not mentally competent to stand trial. He was jailed waiting for a bed. Even though a judge had determined that Mitchell was not competent, he retained his right to refuse treatment. According to Associated Press and Virginian Pilot accounts:

The report alleges that NaphCare employees seemed unwilling to try to overcome Mitchell’s “mildly resistive nature” and give him the treatment and attention he needed.

For example, Mitchell was repeatedly allowed to refuse his essential mental health medication and other medical treatments. The report said Mitchell then “fell into a vicious cycle.” He regularly refused medication and treatments due to his mental illness, then his mental state deteriorated because he wasn’t taking his medication.

The report said NaphCare followed its usual policies and procedures in place for patients who understand them. But, the report said, Mitchell probably did not understand the consequences of refusing treatment.


When I was doing research for my book: CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madnessan inmate in the Miami Dade jail refused treatment. His wishes were respected until his health deteriorated to the point that he had become a danger to himself.  Jail officials contacted the prosecutor’s office and its attorneys asked a judge to force the inmate to accept medical care. The judge did and the inmate became stable enough to realize he needed continued medical care.

In Mitchell’s case, NaphCare nurses inside the jail and jail officials did not take any steps to help Mitchell even though his weight was reportedly dropping to a life-threatening level and his mental health was deteriorating.

“This case is a sad referendum on how people in positions of power and responsibility become cogs in an unfeeling wheel, immune to the plight of the weakest and most vulnerable among us,” the report concluded.

Prosecutor Morales said NaphCare Inc., made 14 witnesses available for interviews, but did not produce the most important ones.

“Our efforts in obtaining more information from the remaining eight witnesses, including the most vital witness employed by NaphCare, have been met with resistance and obstacles,” the report states.

Why didn’t the prosecutor interview those critical witnesses?

The three Circuit Court judges in the city refused the prosecutor’s request to impanel a special grand jury – a move that would have enabled her to subpoena witnesses and force them to testify.

Those judges’ refusal is yet another reason why no individuals will be held personally accountable for Mitchell’s death.

This entire tragedy should outrage Virginians. It reveals how our public officials marginalize the lives of those with mental illnesses, especially if they are incarcerated. Can you imagine the outcry if an elderly Virginian died from a heart attack caused by starvation in a nursing home? How about the preventible death of an elderly individual with dementia? Someone would be held accountable.

Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and current Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring cried crocodile tears after Mitchell’s death but did little to push for the truth. The state Inspector General so badly bungled her investigation that the general assembly voted to fire her. The disAbility Law Center , completely shirked its responsibility. Even the U.S. Justice Department failed to hold anyone responsible after declaring there was reasonable evidence to conclude that jail officials were violating inmates’ constitutional rights.

Instead, we are now being told that Mitchell’s death was his own fault.

Bull. He died because no one cared enough to help him.



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.