One Clerical Error Ended Up Costing a Young, Mentally-Ill Man His Life

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Jamycheal Mitchell
Jamycheal Mitchell

Jamycheal Mitchell, a Virginia man jailed for stealing $5 worth of snacks, died because of a bureaucratic error.

The Guardian reported that Mitchell, 24, died last August after being jailed for four months. Judge Morton Winslow found that Mitchell was not competent to stand trial and ordered that he be sent to Eastern State Hospital for mental evaluation. Unfortunately, that order got lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. The judge claimed he faxed the form, but hospital officials say they never received it.

However, The Guardian found that Winslow faxed the form on May 27. The judge also issued another competency restoration order on July 31, and Mitchell should have been added to the list of people waiting for a hospital bed — but that never happened. The paperwork ended up being stuffed in a drawer, and that mistake cost Mitchell his life.

According to the medical examiner, he died from an irregular heartbeat and “a wasting syndrome.” Mitchell’s family claimed prison guards refused to feed him, but this allegation has not been substantiated. Other inmates reported his food tray was empty and said he asked them for extra food.

Mitchell was one of several Black people who died under mysterious circumstances in police custody last year. One of the most high-profile deaths was Sandra Bland, an Illinois woman who was found dead in a Texas jail cell, after she was violently arrested for a minor traffic infraction. The arrest, which made international news, was captured on dash camera. Texas state trooper Brian Encinia, the officer who arrested Bland, has been fired and charged with perjury related to the incident.

According to The Guardian, Mitchell’s death is still being investigated by police and state authorities. The Virginia legislature has passed laws intended to prevent this kind of bureaucratic error from happening again. The new law, which is awaiting approval by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, requires court clerks to alert hospital staff about hospitalization orders no later than the day after they are sent. Hospital officials are also now required to acknowledge receipt of hospitalization orders with an official form.

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