Portsmouth, VA — Diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for a decade, 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell starved to death in his jail cell after being arrested for stealing $5 in snacks. Although jail officials claim that Mitchell was fed regularly, several inmates have gone on record asserting that guards withheld meals even though Mitchell routinely begged for food in the weeks before his death.
After failing to take his schizophrenia medication for months, Mitchell was arrested on April 22 at a local 7-Eleven for allegedly stealing a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar, and a Zebra Cake totaling $5.05. Unable to pay his $3,000 bail, Mitchell spent the next four months in Portsmouth jails. At the time of his arrest, Mitchell’s weight was listed at 180lbs.
According to court records, Mitchell appeared “confused” during an interview and waived his right to an attorney. On May 20, a psychologist who evaluated Mitchell wrote that he was manic and psychotic. The next day, Mitchell was declared unfit to stand trial in Virginia.
Although Judge Morgan Whitlow had ordered Mitchell to be transferred to Eastern State Hospital, Mitchell’s aunt, who called Eastern State, asserted, “people there said they didn’t know anything about the request or not having bed availability.”
According to Mitchell’s aunt, Roxanne Adams, she called Hampton Roads Regional Jail roughly 40 times over the past few months, but prison officials refused to allow her contact with her mentally ill nephew. Prison officials claim that they regularly fed Mitchell and monitored his health, but several inmates have gone on record asserting that guards allowed Mitchell to starve to death.
Justin Dillon, an inmate who delivered food and worked in Mitchell’s cellblock, told The Washington Post that jail staff often withheld food from Mitchell because he failed to return his tray after meals. In a letter to Mitchell’s family, Dominique Vaughan, another inmate on Mitchell’s block, wrote that Mitchell regularly asked for extra food, but most of the staff ignored his requests.
“He was all skin and bones,” Dillon recalled. “He looked like a stick.”
On July 30, Mitchell was transported to a hospital where medical records show that he was suffering from edema in both legs and liver problems. His weight was listed at 145lbs. The next day, Judge Whitlow reiterated his order to transfer Mitchell to Eastern State Hospital, but his order went ignored.
On August 16, Dillon warned staff members about Mitchell’s failing condition, but they claimed that Mitchell was okay. According to the jail, no staff members reported any warnings about Mitchell’s immobility and rapidly declining health. But according to Vaughan’s letter, Mitchell could barely move and repeatedly asked guards for medical help. After ignoring him for several hours, jail officials found Mitchell dead in his cell at 5:44 a.m. on August 19.
During a post-death examination, Mitchell reportedly weighed 144lbs, about 36lbs less than when he was arrested for stealing $5 in snacks. Although Mitchell died over a month ago, state medical examiners have yet to report an official cause of death.
In order to reduce the rate of suicides in jail, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where jailers were found to break prisoners’ bones and sexually humiliate them, recently agreed to improve the care of mentally ill inmates and curtail abuse by deputies after settling with the Justice Department. While waiting to be transferred to a mental health facility earlier this year, Natasha McKenna, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was killed by Fairfax deputies on video.
Earlier this month, three deputies at Santa Clara County Jail were arrested for beating a mentally ill man to death while he was waiting to be transferred to a nearby mental health hospital. Unable to distinguish between hardened criminals and mentally disturbed patients, police will continue to kill mentally ill patients instead of providing the treatment that they desperately need.