The family of Jamycheal Mitchell, the 24-year-old who was arrested and jailed for stealing $5.05 worth of candy and soda last April and died in police custody last August, is suing the jail and its medical staff, alleging that Mitchell was left to starve to death and subjected to unlivable conditions.
In August, a coroner said that Mitchell, who had previously been diagnosed as psychotic, bipolar, and delusional, had died of a heart condition along with a “wasting syndrome” of unknown causes.
The federal lawsuit, filed by Mithcell's aunt Roxanne Adams detailed her nephew’s treatment while he was at Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia. The family, originally from Louisiana, relocated to Portsmouth after they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In addition to being confined to a two-person cell and seldom given permission to leave, correctional officers also regularly denied Mitchell food. Inmates who interacted with him said that sometimes he received one meal a day, and other times one meal over the course of several days.
According to medical records submitted by jail officials, which the lawsuit alleges were inconsistent and incomplete, Mitchell lost approximately 40 pounds during the four months he was in jail. At 6’1”, he died weighing 144 pounds.
Officials told Adams that Mitchell’s drop in weight was a result of his refusal to eat, but inmates said he often ate “ravenously” when given a meal.
The complaint also alleges that officers cut off running water in his cell, which also contained a toilet, causing it to smell of urine and feces. On at least one occasion, Mitchell smeared feces on the small window of his cell.
Mitchell was also not given a mattress for his bed, nor clothing or shoes, which left him forced to sleep naked on a metal sheet.
The 24-year-old had been prescribed medicine for his medical conditions while in jail, but often did not receive it. Medical staff said he regularly refused treatment, but inmates recalled several instances in which nurses passed over his cell after being told by correctional officers “not to bother” with him because “he was crazy.”
Inmates also witnessed corrections officers physically and verbally abuse Mitchell by dragging, kicking, punching, and standing on top of him. They also sprayed him with mace.
“Many times after the abuse, Mitchell could be heard crying from his cell,” the complaint read.
One inmate, Justin Dillon, told the Richmond-Times Dispatch that while Mitchell was not the only person diagnosed with a mental illness at Hampton Roads Regional Jail, his behavior was different from the others.
“Nobody could fake the way Jamycheal acted,” Dillon said. “No matter what time of day you came in, he was right by his door yelling and screaming. Nobody’s got that much energy.”
Just before he died, inmates noticed that Mitchell had grown quieter, and regularly said that he did not feel well and needed medical help. They said they relayed his concerns to correctional officers and were routinely ignored.
Mitchell was found dead in his cell on Aug. 19, 2015.
“Upon viewing his body, Mitchell’s family was stunned,” the complaint read. “Their beloved Jamycheal, despite his struggles with mental illness, had been a vibrant young man who loved music and always made people laugh.”
“In his place was a withered figure the family could hardly recognize.”
A mental health screening conducted shortly after Mitchell’s arrest found that his “thought processes were so confused that only snippets of his sentences could be understood, the rest were mumbled statements that made no rational sense.”
The General District Court initially ordered that Mitchell be treated at Eastern State Hospital, a facility dedicated to the treatment of mental health. But an investigation conducted after Mitchell’s death revealed that the General District Court clerk did not forward the request to Eastern State Hospital until two months after it had been issued.
After the hospital received the request, the lawsuit alleges, an admissions employee neglected to enter Mitchell’s name into the database, along with several other restoration orders.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the Mitchell family’s attorney for more information.
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.