The family of a mentally disabled man who was arrested and jailed for stealing $5 worth of snacks from a local convenience store filed a lawsuit last week, accusing the jail of starving their family member to death and forcing him to live in unsatisfactory conditions.
Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, died at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia last August, Buzzfeed reports. Mitchell was being held there after he was arrested for stealing a bottle of soda, a candy bar, and a snack cake from a 7-Eleven.
According to the Richmond-Times Dispatch, the young man was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as a child and often exhibited delusional behavior. Mitchell’s family members say he believed Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates was his dad and that he owned the 7-Eleven up the street from his home. This was the delusion that most likely prompted him to stop by the convenience store.
The 112-page lawsuit, filed by Mitchell’s aunt Roxanne Adams, outlines the long list of allegations against 39 defendants, which include the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, the state Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services, and the private prison health care firm, NaphCare, CNN.com reports. Adams is seeking $60 million for the “willful and wanton negligence” of her nephew, along with five counts of civil rights deprivation.
Per Buzzfeed, the lawsuit states that Mitchell was confined to a two-person cell and rarely ever given permission to leave. Officers at the jail often denied him food, and other inmates who interacted with Mitchell say he would only receive one meal a day or one meal over the course of a few days.
Jail officials claim the young man’s drastic weight loss was his own fault because he refused to eat, but inmates told a different story. They say Mitchell would eat “ravenously” whenever he was given something to eat.
The suit also alleges that officers had cut off running water in Mitchell’s cell, causing it to reek of “unflushed urine and feces,” RT.com reports. He was denied a mattress, sheets and pillows for his bed, and shoes as well as clothing.
Mitchell died in his jail cell Aug. 19, 2015 from a heart condition and “accompanying wasting syndrome of unknown etiology,” CNN.com reports. According to medical records, the 6’1″ man had lost about 40 pounds during his four-month stay at the jail and weighed just 144 pounds at the time of his death.
“He was unrecognizable — that’s how bad it was. He was unrecognizable. There’s something that has to be done,” Adams told WTKR. “[He was] probably about 90 pounds and looked 70 years old.”
Per the lawsuit, inmates say they begged officers to help Mitchell during his time at the jail, but their requests were often ignored.
“As long as he doesn’t die on my watch,” one inmate remembered being told.
Buzzfeed reports that inmates also noticed Mitchell was acting much differently in the days before his death. They say he was quieter and often complained that he didn’t feel well. The concerns were passed along to the jail’s officers but ultimately disregarded.
Mitchell was originally supposed to be transferred to the Eastern State Hospital for treatment that would restore his competency, but he was never moved because the hospital claimed all their beds were full, RT.com reports. A probe by the Office of the State Inspector General revealed that the transfer order wasn’t faxed until nearly two months after it was issued.
The order was never processed however, as the fax was found in the desk drawer of a behavioral health official, along with 10 similar orders, CNN.com reports. By that time, Mitchell had already died.
Mitchell’s family hopes they’ll be awarded the $60 million as well as a jury trial.
“Their beloved Jamycheal, despite his struggles with mental illness, had been a vibrant young man who loved music and always made people laugh,” their lawsuit read.