Story highlights

Lawsuit: Guards say Jamycheal Mitchell wouldn't eat, but inmates say he ate voraciously when fed

Mitchell's aunt has filed a federal lawsuit demanding a jury trial, asking for at least $60 million

Mitchell repeatedly diagnosed as psychotic, but wasn't transferred to hospital custody, lawsuit says

CNN —  

Arrested for stealing $5.05 of sweets and soda, a 24-year-old who doctors repeatedly diagnosed as psychotic and delusional was left to essentially starve to death over four months in a squalid Virginia jail cell, Jamycheal Mitchell’s aunt alleged in a federal lawsuit.

By the time Mitchell died in August – officially, of a heart condition “accompanying wasting syndrome of unknown etiology” – jail staff had allegedly denied him many meals, cut off the water to his cell and left him naked with no bedding or shoes as he smeared feces on the window of his urine-covered cell, the lawsuit states, citing numerous inmates who served time with Mitchell.

Mitchell lost about 40 pounds during his time in jail, documents say. A medical examiner said he was “nearly cachectic,” meaning his weight loss could not be reversed via nutrition.

Wasting syndrome and cachectic are terms most often used with sufferers of chronic disease such as cancer and AIDS.

Jamycheal Mitchell weighed 144 pounds at death, lawsuit says.
Jamycheal Mitchell weighed 144 pounds at death, lawsuit says.

“He was unrecognizable – that’s how bad it was. He was unrecognizable. There’s something that has to be done,” his aunt, Roxanne Adams, told CNN affiliate WTKR. “(He was) probably about 90 pounds and looked 70 years old.”

Inmates said they pleaded with guards to help Mitchell during his stay, but their pleas were ignored or disregarded, according to the lawsuit.

“As long as he doesn’t die on my watch,” one inmate recalled being told.

The 112-page lawsuit filed last week outlines the litany of allegations against 39 defendants, including the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, the state Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services and the private prison health care firm, NaphCare.

Want to read the entire lawsuit?

Defendants mum

Adams is demanding a jury trial and at least $60 million in a lawsuit that alleges willful and wanton negligence and five counts of civil rights deprivation.

“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,” the lawsuit says.

Jail spokesman Lt. Col Eugene Taylor said, “We really can’t speak about the Jamycheal Mitchell case at all,” citing advice from counsel.

Jeff Rosen, an attorney representing the jail, could not be reached for comment.

A statement from an attorney for Birmingham, Alabama-based NaphCare, which no longer provides health care at the jail, called Mitchell’s death a tragedy and said NaphCare’s employees “took appropriate steps” to have him transferred to a 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,” it said. “The allegations of indifference and neglect against NaphCare’s providers are false and unfounded. NaphCare will vigorously defend these false allegations.”

Maria Reppas, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, told CNN that her department would not comment on Mitchell’s specific case beyond the reports that have already been released publicly.

She said the department is taking steps to shorten wait times for those being transferred for mental health treatment, including hiring an employee to triage those on the wait list.

“Throughout the past few months, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services has recognized and taken a number of steps to reduce the forensic wait list,” she said in an email to CNN. “Serving individuals with mental illness, who are involved in the criminal justice system, is a multifaceted process, and we will continue to work with other state and local entities to ensure that this population’s needs are effectively served.”

Repeated diagnoses

The story of Mitchell’s demise begins April 22, 2015, when the Portsmouth man was arrested for stealing a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew, a Snickers and a Little Debbie Zebra Cake from a 7-Eleven.

Counts alleged in lawsuit

  • 1) Negligence, gross negligence and willful and wanton negligence
  • 2) Deprivation of civil rights (denial, delay and withholding of medical care)
  • 3) Deprivation of civil rights (conditions of detention)
  • 4) Deprivation of civil rights (physical abuse/excessive force)
  • 5) Deprivation of civil rights (reckless and callous indifference to 14th Amendment rights)
  • 6) Deprivation of civil rights (Deliberate indifference-supervisory liability)
  • At the time, he falsely claimed his father owned the store, and the treats were his, the lawsuit states. He was held on a theft charge, as well as a count of trespassing because he had previously been banned from the store.

    At the time of his arrest, the 6-foot-1 Mitchell weighed 180 pounds. He had just turned 24 two days before.

    Mitchell had a history of mental illness. He was diagnosed as mildly intellectually disabled in fourth grade, and the next year as bipolar schizophrenic. Well behind his classmates in his studies, he dropped out of school in the 10th grade, according to the lawsuit.

    After his arrest, Mitchell was sent for a medical screening at Portsmouth City Jail, which determined Mitchell’s “thought process does not make sense.” On April 24, he was said to have “delusions,” the lawsuit states.

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    On April 29, he was labeled “very psychotic – delusional” and those charged with screening him said he “rambles from subject to subject” and asked where tech icon Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were. A judge the next day ordered a psychological evaluation, the lawsuit states.

    The Portsmouth Department of Behavioral Healthcare Services said Mitchell was a candidate for a jail diversion program, but he wouldn’t accept services. The same day, the city jail documented again that the “inmate continues to be psychotic,” according to the suit.

    The next month, the jail would again report problems with Mitchell, and again it invoked the words, psychotic and delusional. A May 2015 report said Mitchell was disoriented, speaking loudly and having hallucinations.

    “Inmate continues to present as acutely psychotic – deputies report that he goes for hours just yelling,” the report said, according to the lawsuit.

    Transfer to Hampton Roads

    On May 11, Mitchell was transferred to the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth. His file noted he needed medical treatment, including psychotropic medications, and advised he should be monitored as a suicide precaution.

    He weighed 178 pounds.

    A doctor conducted a May 20 psychological evaluation, in which he documented that Mitchell had “psychotic and grandiose ideas,” according to the lawsuit. He was unable to coherently discuss his case, and during a break in the evaluation the doctor heard Mitchell “singing and yelling incomprehensibly.”

    Mitchell “LACKED,” the doctor wrote in capital letters for emphasis, “the capacity to assist counsel in preparing a defense.”

    The judge issued a competency restoration order, which required Mitchell be transferred to Eastern State Hospital, a mental health facility in Williamsburg, roughly 50 miles north of Norfolk.

    The order was reportedly sent May 27, but the lawsuit says there is no proof it was mailed, and an investigation conducted by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services showed no record of the hospital receiving it.

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    On numerous occasions during his incarceration, Mitchell was denied his medications, the lawsuit alleges. Sometimes he refused them outright; other times he became aggressive, cursing and at least once spitting on a nurse and corrections officer. In a handful of instances, jail staff noted that he would dip his finger in the crushed drugs and pretend to put them in his nose as if he was using cocaine, the lawsuit states.