Family of woman who died at Portsmouth City Jail wants grand jury investigation


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The family of a woman who died in a local jail is pushing prosecutors to dig deeper into her case.

10 On Your Side has been following Pamela Riddick’s death at the Portsmouth City Jail for a year now. There’s even surveillance video we’ve shown of the moments paramedics rushed into the 56-year-old’s cell, but it’s the video of hands through cell bars that has the family talking now.

The Riddick family wants a special grand jury to investigate the death. 

MORE: Special Report: Death in the Portsmouth City Jail

The current sheriff has an internal investigation looking into his predecessor’s staffing issues that may have kept deputies off the cell floor when they needed to be there most.

“I just miss my mom. I need answers. I want answers on why she was neglected,” says Pamela’s daughter Ameka Riddick.

Some of those answers might be found in surveillance video, which shows what appear to be hands, the hands of fellow inmate Leslie Newman.

“I had banged on the bars with the cup. I had called for them.  I yelled for them. I waved my washcloth outside the bars,” Newman told 10 On Your Side in October. 

There’s no audio on the surveillance video, and no absolute signs of a waving washcloth through the bars to get deputy attention, but it is possible that deputies didn’t hear Newman because of a loud fan and a television in the next room. 

Newman told said in October, “I called for deputies. I got no response.”

Newman said she screamed for help for 30 to 40 minutes after breakfast was delivered at 5:15 a.m.

“I had banged on the bars with the cup.  I had called for them, yelled for them, I waved my washcloth outside the bars.”

There is no evidence of any hands outside the bars during the time Newman described.  However, if you rewind the surveillance tape to 4:34 a.m., 4:35, to 4:36, you see the hands. 

There is no audio, video is grainy and you can’t see any white washcloth, but you do see hands outside the bars, and Newman said she was crying for help for Pamela Riddick.

“All I can say is there is a washcloth coming out of the cell trying to get someone’s attention,” said Riddick family attorney Don Scott. “I don’t know if it is a washcloth or a hand, but there is a period of time where you can’t see anything coming out of the cell, and then there is a period where you can see something going out of the cell.”

The video 10 On Your Side first showed you in October was shortly before Riddick was discovered in medical distress, and several deputies walked by Riddick’s cell never really looking in on her. 

Back in October 10 On Your Side asked then Capt. Lee Cherry whether the deputies make sure inmates are still breathing and whether it’s their responsibility?

Cherry answered, “No It is unrealistic that with a jail full of people that our deputies are going to walk through and do a hospital bed check.” 

Don Scott didn’t like that, nor the tone, “They were walking by and they didn’t care. They believed those people were not worth the time to check in on.”

What is also under investigation is how deputies failed to walk past the cells at least two times an hour, which is required as a standard.  22 minutes after the hands showed through the bars finally a deputy went by, but Newman had fallen asleep and Riddick was on her way to dying.

There is a new state policy to investigate all inmate deaths.  Pamela Riddick’s case led to new concerns that former Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson did not have proper staffing on the jail cell floors.

10 On Your Side has learned there was also a report made from Watson’s office suggesting there was proper staffing, when in fact there wasn’t.  

The Portsmouth Police Department released this statement in regards to the case: 

In reference to the Pamela Riddick death investigation, Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman wishes to make the following statement:

On August 23, 2017 members of the Portsmouth Police Department started an investigation of an in custody death that occurred at the Portsmouth City Jail. During the course of the investigation, Portsmouth Police Department, Major Crimes Unit interviewed several witnesses, to include Deputies, Firefighters, Police Officers, Medics, and met with representatives from the Medical Examiner’s office. October 20, 2017, members of the Portsmouth Police Department met with representatives of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and gave a presentation of the action taken during the investigation and findings.

On November 3, 2017 a casefile was turned over to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to include a 162 page report along with several copies of video footage. On December 12, 2017, the official medical examiner’s autopsy report was mailed out to the Portsmouth Police Department and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. In December 2017 the Portsmouth Police Department provided an additional copy of the official report, also the Portsmouth Police Department concluded its investigation into the death of Pamela Riddick.  February 9, 2018, an Investigator with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office contacted a Detective with the Major Crimes Unit requesting additional video footage from the jail. This footage was already provided to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in November 2017.  From February 2018 to August 2018, there has been no contact from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office involving the death of Pamela Riddick. On Monday, August 27, 2018, an investigator with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office had additional inquiries in reference to the medical examiner’s report. On Thursday, August 30, 2018, Detectives met with the investigator from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office at the Criminal Investigative Bureau and was advised that the inquiry could only be answered by the medical examiner’s office. During the course of the investigation, Portsmouth Police Department has made themselves available for any additional questions and inquiries.

At this time, no additional information about this ongoing case will be released.

The Portsmouth NAACP has called for Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales to rescuse herself from the case. 

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