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Swaine writes: "Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, had been held in Virginia jail without bail for nearly four months, accused of stealing a Mountain Dew, Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake."

Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, was arrested in April for allegedly stealing a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake from a 7-Eleven. (photo: Facebook)
Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, was arrested in April for allegedly stealing a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake from a 7-Eleven. (photo: Facebook)

Young Black Man Jailed Since April for Alleged $5 Theft Found Dead in Cell

By Jon Swaine, Guardian UK

28 August 15


Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, had been held in Virginia jail without bail for nearly four months, accused of stealing a Mountain Dew, Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake

young black man arrested by police in Portsmouth, Virginia, on the same day that one of the city’s officers fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old, has been found dead in jail after spending almost four months behind bars without bail for stealing groceries worth $5.

Jamycheal Mitchell, who had mental health problems, was discovered lying on the floor of his cell by guards early last Wednesday, according to authorities. While his body is still awaiting an autopsy, senior prison officials said his death was not being treated as suspicious.

“As of right now it is deemed ‘natural causes’,” Natasha Perry, the master jail officer at the Hampton Roads regional jail in Portsmouth, said of his death in an interview. Perry said there were no obvious outward signs of injury to the 24-year-old’s body.

Mitchell’s family said they believed he starved to death after refusing meals and medication at the jail, where he was being held on misdemeanor charges of petty larceny and trespassing. A clerk at Portsmouth district court said Mitchell was accused of stealing a bottle of Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake worth a total of $5 from a 7-Eleven.

“His body failed,” said Roxanne Adams, Mitchell’s aunt. “It is extraordinary. The person I saw deceased was not even the same person.” Adams, who is a registered nurse, said Mitchell had practically no muscle mass left by the time of his death.

A few hours after Mitchell was arrested on 22 April by Portsmouth police officer L Schaefer for the alleged theft, William Chapman was shot dead by officer Stephen Rankin outside a Walmart superstore about 2.5 miles away in the same city. State prosecutor Stephanie Morales said on Thursday she would pursue criminal charges over Chapman’s death.

Except for a brief item stating that an inmate had been found dead, the story of Mitchell’s death has not been covered by local media in Virginia, and is reported for the first time here.

Adams said in an interview that her nephew had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for about five years. Nicknamed Weezy, he lived with his mother Sonia and had been unable to hold down work. “He just chain-smoked and made people laugh,” said Adams. “He never did anything serious, never harmed anybody.”

Officials said that after his arrest, Mitchell was taken to Portsmouth city jail, where he stayed for almost three weeks before being transferred across the city to the regional jail on 11 May.

Ten days after that, the court clerk said, Judge Morton Whitlow ruled Mitchell was not competent to stand trial and ordered that he be transferred to Eastern State hospital, a state-run mental health facility in Williamsburg, for treatment.

The clerk said that typically in such cases “we do an order to restore the defendant to competence, send it to the hospital, and when the hospital has a bed, we do a transportation order, and he’s taken to the hospital.” Whitlow reiterated the order on 31 July and was due to review the case again on 4 September, according to the clerk.

But the hospital said it had no vacancy and the 24-year-old was therefore detained in jail until his death on 19 August, according to Adams, Mitchell’s aunt, who said she had tried to assist the hospitalisation process herself but was left frustrated.

“He was just deteriorating so fast,” she said. “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.”

When asked which state agency was ultimately responsible for ensuring Mitchell was transferred to the hospital, the court clerk said: “It’s hard to tell who’s responsible for it.”

Officials from the court, the police department and the jail could not explain why Mitchell was not given the opportunity to be released on bail.

Mitchell previously spent four months in the jail from April 2010, also on charges of petty larceny and trespassing, before being ordered released by the courts, according to Perry, the prison official.

She said Mitchell returned to the jail in January 2012, again on a petty larceny charge, before being released in May 2012 having spent a month in a state hospital.

Two spokespeople for Virginia’s department of behavioral health and developmental services, which runs Eastern State hospital, did not return several messages and emails seeking comment about Mitchell’s death.

Adams said medics at the jail told her Mitchell refused to take medication for his conditions. Before his arrest her nephew was on prescriptions for the antipsychotic drugs Prolixin and Zyprexin, and the mood stabiliser Depakote, according to Adams. She said prison officials then prescribed him the antipsychotic drug Haldol and Cogentin, which is intended to reduce the side-effects of the other medication, but he refused to take the drugs.

Adams said prison officials said her nephew had also been declining to eat. She said she saw Mitchell in court in recent weeks and estimated that he had lost 65 pounds since being detained. “He was extremely emaciated,” said Adams.

The aunt said relatives had not been able to visit Mitchell because he had not given jail officials their names as approved visitors. “His mind was gone because he wasn’t taking his meds, so he didn’t have a list for anyone to see him,” she said.

Perry could not be reached for comment on the family’s claims about Mitchell. In the earlier interview, she said the 24-year-old had been housed alone in a regular jail cell comprising a bunk with a mattress, a toilet, a sink, a shelf and a slit-like window. She said she did not know the size of the cell and declined to estimate. your social media marketing partner


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+19 # indian weaver 2015-08-28 15:44
Amerika, Amerika, Amerika, KKK KKK KKK, Nazi Nazi Nazi, Obama / dubya are world class terrorists and torturers. Get rid of this nation's fascist regime before it destroys all of us and the planet. This horror story is being repeated everywhere, right now. Obama's so-called Attorney General Eric Holder was always MIA. No serious effort was made to control the injustice system in spite of increasing racism, police murders of African Americans, and a horrible corrupt prison system, and I could go on. No AG. No oversight whatsoever. Beware.
+34 # Capn Canard 2015-08-28 16:58
Perhaps America has "Jumped the Shark" and completely gone over the edge into an abyss of deep stupidity where only stupid authoritarians are in charge. Jailing a man for months for a theft of $5 of goods and the man dies in custody?! Good grief...
+6 # rhgreen 2015-08-29 06:46
Oh Virginia, land of my growing up! OK some of this was sins of omission, not of commission, but the bible (which many Virginians claim to follow) says that's no excuse.
+17 # nice2bgreat 2015-08-28 19:00
Tax-payer funded.
+15 # Dongi 2015-08-28 22:07
What's with Ports#outh, Va? A guy jailed for stealing 5$ worth of groceries dies in prison. Another is shot dead by a police#an outside a Wal#art superstore. And, has A#erica lost its balance, also? About ti#e for the Congress to act and re#edy this situation. Whatever has happened to the training of our police forces?
+19 # danireland46 2015-08-28 23:00
Human beings are horrified by the inhuman injustice of this event. What Humans don't realize is that what happened is exactly what the perpetrators wanted to happen because black lives don't matter to them. Actually, lives in general don't matter - CONTROL matters. We have an inhuman judicial system in this country.
+22 # janie1893 2015-08-29 01:01
How can anyone be allowed to starve to death while incarcerated?
One becomes speechless at the inhuman treatment of a troubled youngster.
+10 # Sweet Pea 2015-08-29 07:07
Quoting janie1893:
How can anyone be allowed to starve to death while incarcerated?
One becomes speechless at the inhuman treatment of a troubled youngster.

Again, our country has destroyed our pride in the U.S.A. I will admit that the young man had a problem. However it seems to me that it is time for some of my taxes start going to bringing back our industrial jobs-and stop the imports so that our young people can go to work and take pride in being a "contributing" member of society. No industry=no jobs. No jobs=no pride in achievement. No pride in achievement=des truction of the human race.
+15 # barbaratodish 2015-08-29 04:05
The world is now mostly populated by unfeeling, uncaring ZOMBIES! Proof that almost everyone is uncaring is that If I quote Eugene V. Debs' call for empathy (" ...As long as there is even just ONE (1) soul in prison, I am not free...") Just see how many thumbs down, and/or no comments at all, this comment gets!
+7 # Dongi 2015-08-29 07:22
Debs is so relevant for present times; we should all pay attention to his "call for empathy." Good job.
-28 # MidwestTom 2015-08-29 08:30
Isn't stealing a car and stealing a candy bar still stealing? What has happened to our morals?
+13 # Karlus58 2015-08-29 09:06
You can't eat a car Asszhole! Equating auto theft to stealing a freaking twinkie is asinine and immoral. You must've had some brain farct when studying Chemical Engineering.
+16 # davehaze 2015-08-29 12:25
Midwest tom
I'sn't bankers at Chase Manhattan Bank stealing a billion dollars off of mortgage holders stealing? What has happened to our morals?
+11 # moonrigger 2015-08-29 13:41
So, if it was your kid, you'd want him/her to rot in jail and have a record for a petty theft? Stealing a car is grand larceny--quite a different crime. Honestly, I wonder if you ever think things through!
+7 # JJS 2015-08-29 16:07
How noble the law, in its majestic equality, that both the rich and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the streets, sleeping under bridges, and stealing bread!
-Jacques Anatole François Thibault (1894)
+8 # moonrigger 2015-08-29 13:38
At which point did it become feasible to jail someone for shoplifting? I remember as kids my friends in middle school would "bag" stuff from local stores. If caught, they would get a stern lecture, and be banished from the store, certainly not taken down to the police station, much less jailed.

I had a retail store for several years, and yes, there was "shrinkage"--sm all items stolen by shoppers or possibly employees. As much as this is a problem, it does not warrant draconian punishment.

Far too often, small infractions of the statutes are being met with jail time, and people's lives are paid in forfeit for what? failing to signal, stealing items worth less than $100, or just looking suspicious, whatever that means.

Us older children watched many an Our Gang or other entertainment in which kids swiped fruit, candy, cakes cooling on windowsills and the like. Those varmints weren't punished by jail time. What the heck? ANd what kind of judge would turn such petty theft into such a life-altering event? Sick!
+4 # JJS 2015-08-29 17:13
moonrigger, I had similar experiences as a youth in the 60's n 70"s. Teenage drinking behind the skating rink, the cops would make us pour out the beer, or just take it from us and told us it was time to go home.
But I had a home to go to, am white, suburban, plain vanilla.
+9 # angelfish 2015-08-29 14:19
I wonder why NONE of the Presidential Candidates, except for Bernie Sanders, are willing to address the DESPERATE need for Jail/Prison Reform? Holding this young man in custody for a FIVE (5) dollar theft seems ludicrous and Pound Foolish since, I'm SURE his incarceration cost the city much more than the $5.00 theft. They are KILLING people for Petty Crimes that deserve NO Jail Time. WHEN will Justice come creeping out of the corner it's been hiding in? I wonder...?

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