Trials and Litigation

Mentally ill man arrested for shoplifting $5.05 in snacks died of starvation in jail, lawsuit says

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Arrested last year for shoplifting $5.05 worth of snacks from a convenience store near his family’s home in Portsmouth, Virginia, a 24-year-old mentally ill man essentially starved to death in jail over the next four months, a civil rights lawsuit filed by his aunt alleges.

A judge had ordered Jamycheal Mitchell, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, to be placed in a state psychiatric hospital. However, no bed was found for him and he wasted away, losing nearly 40 pounds, according to the federal suit filed last week by his aunt Roxanne Adams in Norfolk, Virginia.

Slate, the Virginian-Pilot and WAVY have stories about the lawsuit (PDF), which has sparked calls for a criminal investigation and review by lawmakers.

“He was unrecognizable—that’s how bad it was. He was unrecognizable. There’s something that has to be done,” Adams told CNN affiliate WTKR. At the time of his death, she said, Mitchell was “probably about 90 pounds and looked 70 years old.”

Representatives of the state and the jail either could not be reached for comment or declined to comment about the suit, CNN reports.

Before the suit was filed, the assistant superintendent at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail where Mitchell had been held spoke to the Washington Post (reg. req.) about Mitchell’s death.

“It is quite a challenge at times with the mentally ill,” Lt. Col. Eugene Taylor told the Post. “Our jail has become a de facto mental health facility in lieu of beds being available in the state.”

A lawyer for the jail’s former health care provider called Mitchell’s death tragic, and said in a written statement that its employees “took appropriate steps” to get him into state mental health facility.

“The investigative reports of his death suggest gaps and failures within the state’s mental health system prevented Mr. Mitchell from receiving the inpatient care he needed,” the statement continues, contending that allegations against health care providers are false and unfounded and promising a vigorous defense.

An earlier Washington Post (reg. req.) story provides additional details about the case.

Related coverage:

Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Former official questions inspector general’s jurisdiction in Jamycheal Mitchell case”

See also: “Woman who died alone in jail ‘just didn’t seem that sick’ to medical staff”

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