Jamycheal Mitchell, Jailed in Virginia for 4 Months Without Bail for Allegedly Shoplifting $5, Found Dead in Cell
A young Virginia man jailed since April without bail for allegedly shoplifting $5 worth of snacks and soda from a convenience store has been found dead in his cell.
The Guardian reports 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell, known to friends and family as “Weezy,” was discovered lying on the floor of his cell last Wednesday at around 5:45 a.m. by guards at Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth. Mitchell, who suffered from mental health problems, was arrested on April 22 and accused of stealing a bottle of Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake worth a total of $5 from a 7-Eleven.
Jail officials said Mitchell’s death is not being treated as suspicious.
“As of right now it is deemed ‘natural causes’,” master jail officer Natasha Perry told the Guardian, adding that there were no obvious signs of injury to the inmate, whose body is still awaiting an autopsy. Police are investigating Mitchell’s death.
The victim’s family said they believe he starved himself to death and had been refusing meals and medication in jail.
“His body failed,” aunt and registered nurse Roxanne Adams told the Guardian. “It is extraordinary. The person I saw deceased was not even the same person,” she said, adding that Mitchell had practically no muscle mass left by the time of his death. Adams said she estimated Mitchell lost 65 pounds (29 kg) during his detention.
“He was extremely emaciated,” she said.
Aside from a 40-word article on WAVY.com that did not mention Mitchell by name, local media in Virginia ignored the young man’s death until the Guardian—a British newspaper—reported on the incident.
The Virginian-Pilot reports Mitchell was awaiting transfer to Eastern State Hospital, a state mental institution in Williamsburg, at the time of his death, but no beds were available there. According to a bail hearing, Mitchell was unable to work due to a lifelong disability. He told the court he suffered from bipolar disorder, and a forensic psychologist who evaluated the young man to determine whether he was fit to stand trial concluded he was “manic and psychotic.”
“Mr. Mitchell’s thought processes were so confused that only snippets of his sentences could be understood, the rest were mumbled statements that made no rational sense,” the psychologist, Evan Nelson, wrote.
Another mental health evaluation in 2010 found that Mitchell was “acutely psychotic,” and later an evaluator advised that he was “unrestorably incompetent to stand trial” on a petty larceny charge, recommending that the case be dismissed.
Then, on May 21, Judge Morton Whitlow ruled Mitchell was not competent to stand trial and ordered his transfer to Eastern State Hospital for mental health treatment. But the hospital had no vacancy, and Mitchell was kept locked up in the jail where he died.
“He was just deteriorating so fast,” Adams told the Guardian. “I kept calling the jail, but they said they couldn’t transfer him because there were no available beds. So I called Eastern State, too, and people there said they didn’t know anything about the request or not having bed availability.”
“Our family and friends had to swallow the hardest pill we ever had to swallow in life,” Jasmine Adams, Mitchell’s sister, wrote in a Facebook tribute. “If it’s one thing Jamycheal made sure he did, he was gonna put a smile on your face…no matter what, he touched soooo many ppl & he didn’t even know it.”
Mitchell is the latest in a string of black Americans to die in jail or while in police custody in recent months, the most high profile case being that of #BlackLivesMatter activist Sandra Bland, 28, who was found dead in her cell on July 13 after being stopped by police in Prairie View, Texas for failure to signal a lane change.
Many of those who died behind bars were being held for minor offenses, prompting protests and allegations of racism from advocates and activists, including the #BlackLivesMatter movement, although people of all races often die while incarcerated.