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A Year Later – What Happened to Jamycheal Mitchell in Jail?

More than a year after he was arrested for stealing $5 worth of snacks, there are no official answers about why or how Jamycheal Mitchell died in jail. (Youtube/Mitchell Family)
More than a year after he was arrested for stealing $5 worth of snacks, there are no official answers about why or how Jamycheal Mitchell died in jail. (Youtube/Mitchell Family)
May 31, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. – Nearly a year later, it's still unclear how a mentally ill Virginia man died in jail after being arrested for stealing $5 worth of snacks.

When Jamycheal Mitchell was arrested in April 2015, the 24-year-old was under the delusion his father owned the Portsmouth convenience store.

By the time he was found dead in a feces-smeared cell four months later, he'd lost a fifth of his body weight, while still awaiting trial or treatment.

Reporter Gary Harki, who has pursued the case for the Virginian-Pilot, says a lawsuit filed by Mitchell's family maintains Jamycheal was tortured.

"What nobody has done is really investigate what happened in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail,” he states. “One inmate said, according to the lawsuit, he was treated 'like a circus animal,' dragged, mocked, beaten. But they're all allegations."

A lawyer for Hampton Roads Regional Jail staff denies any wrongdoing.

Virginia State Police are considering an investigation and the F-B-I is considering looking into whether Mitchell’s civil rights were violated.

Harki says a court order for Mitchell to be transferred to Eastern State Hospital ended up stuck in a drawer by mistake. He says one concern the case raises is that a lack of treatment means too many mentally ill Virginians end up in jail or on the street.

And Harki says police officials insist they're not the right people to be on the front lines of a mental health crisis.

"They're not mental health workers, they're police officers,” he states. “They've had to really learn how to deal with people who are maybe seeing things, or hearing voices, or see them as a threat."

Virginia lawmakers have worked to improve mental health access in the last few years, although Harki says it doesn't seem to be enough. He's convinced there may be other, more important questions here as well.

"Nobody has gotten to the central question of what happened in the jail,” he states. “Is it a problem just with the mentally ill being in these situations? Or is it also a problem with how those facilities are run?"

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA