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Federal Court Approves $3 Million Settlement for Death of Virginia Jail Prisoner Jamycheal Mitchell

by Scott Grammer

In a case that involved circumstances she called “heartbreaking and shocking,” U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Beach Smith approved a $3 million settlement in a wrongful death suit filed by the family of Jamycheal M. Mitchell, a 24-year-old man who, according to the complaint, suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Judge Smith stated that while awaiting trial at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, Mitchell died “amid his own feces and bodily fluids on August 19, 2015, from ‘wasting syndrome.’” [See: PLN, Nov. 2018, p.32; July 2018, p.44; Feb. 2017, p.24].

According to the lawsuit, the 6’1” Mitchell went from over 180 pounds to 144 pounds during his 100-day stay at the jail, and was locked alone in a cold, air-conditioned cell with no water, mattress, sheets or blanket. The complaint further stated that he was denied his psychotropic medications and had been “forced to the ground, dragged, sprayed with mace, stood upon, punched and kicked,” as well as mocked and laughed at by jail staff. 

His alleged crime? Stealing $5.05 worth of soda and snacks from a 7-Eleven store.

Mitchell had been found incompetent to stand trial by a Virginia state court which, on May 21, 2015, entered an order directing that he receive treatment to restore his competency. The complaint alleged that a state investigation found Portsmouth General District Court Clerk Lenna Jo Davis and her employee, Kelly N. Boyd, did not forward the court order to the state hospital for more than two months after it was issued. Then the order “was never acted upon because Defendant Gail Hart, an Eastern State Hospital admissions employee, simply shoved the order in a drawer; she never entered Mitchell’s name into the log used to manage incoming patients to Eastern State Hospital.” 

The lawsuit claimed that a report by the “Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Development Services ... found that Hart’s drawer contained a ‘significant number of [competency restoration orders] that had not been entered.’” 

A February 20, 2019 report by the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Portsmouth noted that NaphCare, the for-profit company that provided medical services at the jail, had initially “declined to make its employees available for full interviews.” The report said “The death of Jamycheal Mitchell in Hampton Roads Regional Jail was tragic and likely avoidable,” though it added “The totality of the evidence ... shows that Mr. Mitchell was likely deteriorating mentally and physically before he went into custody, meaning that the actions and inactions of correctional officers and NaphCare staff potentially contributed to but likely did not directly cause Mr. Mitchell’s weight loss or death.”

The report further observed that “The public can and should demand that NaphCare would comply with the criminal investigation into its employees’ actions in a timely manner. The company failed to do so, and its dilatory conduct prolonged this investigation unnecessarily.... The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s emails to NaphCare’s lead counsel went unanswered for weeks and even months. It took NaphCare roughly 18 months to produce 14 of 22 requested individuals for interview, and some essential witnesses were never produced.”

Referring to staff at the jail, the report concluded: “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 settlement in the wrongful death case was approved by the federal district court on March 19, 2019. Judge Smith said her approval order “does not change the circumstances of Jamycheal Mitchell’s tragic and needless death, but it does bring some closure to his family, as well as heightened public awareness of the inadequacy of the penal system as a proper setting in which to address mental health issues.” See: Adams v. NaphCare, Inc.,U.S.D.C. (E.D. VA), Case No. 2:16-cv-00229-RBS. 


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Related legal case

Adams v. NaphCare, Inc.