Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring at podium with Governor Terry McAuliffe standing behind him.
(2-28-17) Republic Delegate Robert B. Bell from Albemarle and Democratic state Senator R. Creigh Deeds from Bath continue to demand better mental health services and protections in Virginia.
In the final hours of the legislative session Saturday night, they were able to get language passed that clarifies who is responsible for investigating suspicious inmate deaths in Virginia jails.
Their dogged, bipartisan determination should bring an end to the cowardly behavior shown by state officials surrounding the death of Jamycheal Mitchell, a 24 year-old African American whose lifeless body was found in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in August 2015. Mitchell, who had been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, had been jailed for allegedly stealing $5.05 worth of snack food from a convenience store. A judge ordered him sent to a state hospital to be restored to competency, but his paperwork was tossed into a drawer and not found until six days after his death.
By that time, Mitchell had spent 101 days in jail. An autopsy showed he had died from a heart attack brought on by starvation. He lost 46 pounds even though he was supposedly under multiple daily checks by correctional officers and a daily health check by a nurse.
The horror of his death was compounded when state officials claimed they either did not have jurisdiction to fully investigate what happened or dodged doing a credible investigation. Instead, they happily accepted assurances from jail officials who declared themselves innocent of any wrongdoing. Not surprisingly, that internal jail probe has never been made public.
At least three state agencies and Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe contributed to this debacle. They include Virginia Attorney General’s office, the Office of State Inspector General, and the disAbility Law Center of Virginia.