Judge issues opinion calling death of Jamycheal Mitchell ‘tragic’

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A federal judge presiding over the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Jamycheal Mitchell called the 24-year-old’s death inside the Hampton Roads Regional Jail “tragic and needless.” 

Mitchell was a mentally ill inmate who died of wasting syndrome in August 2015 while waiting in solitary confinement at the HRRJ for a judge-ordered transfer to Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg. 

Mitchell was arrested 4 months before his death after trespassing and stealing $5 in snacks from a 7-Eleven on George Washington Highway in Portsmouth. 

In a four-page written opinion on the case, United States District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith outlined the “heartbreaking and shocking” circumstances surrounding Mitchell’s death, including the fact that he lost nearly 40 pounds during his incarceration. 

“His deteriorating mental and physical condition was basically ignored, and he died amid his own feces and bodily fluids,” Smith wrote. 

Mitchell was diagnosed as “manic and psychotic.” A judge ordered for him to be transferred to a state facility to be restored to competency for trial. That transfer didn’t happen, and Mitchell spent 100 days in restrictive housing after refusing to be tested for tuberculosis, according to a Department of Justice report issued in December. 

Smith called the failure to have Mitchell properly transferred to Eastern State Hospital an “unacceptable breakdown … combined with a lack of care and concern of many individuals in the system.”

Smith’s opinion of the case came as Mitchell’s family finalized their acceptance of a $3 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit. The defendants in the lawsuit, including the HRRJ and its former healthcare provider NaphCare, do not admit liability or fault in Mitchell’s death as part of the settlement, court documents state. 

“This settlement brings a monetary conclusion to a lawsuit involving some of the most appaling and inhumane allegations to which the undersigned judge has been privy in over thirty years on the federal bench,” Smith wrote.

A month before Smith issued her opinion, Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales released a 166-page report that detailed her office’s investigation into Mitchell’s death. Although her report also called Mitchell’s death “tragic and likely avoidable,” Morales said that her office is unable to charge anyone in connection to it based on missing information that would help them determine probable cause. 

“While institutional and individual accountability in this matter remain woefully lacking, the case and resulting settlement at least bring about sharpened focus on, and heightened public awareness of, the problems of incarcerating mentally ill individuals,” Smith wrote in her opinion. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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