Department says it lacked access probing inmate's death

AP News
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Posted: May 03, 2016 1:40 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — State officials were unable to complete a thorough investigation into the death of a mentally ill Virginia inmate accused of stealing snack food because they didn't have enough authority to access certain records and interview key employees, an official wrote.

Virginia's inspector general issued a report last month calling for changes in the handling of mentally ill inmates after 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell's death in a Portsmouth cell last year.

Mitchell was found dead in his Portsmouth jail cell in August after losing so much weight his heart stopped. State investigators said Mitchell's name wasn't on a waiting list for a bed at a state mental hospital, even though a judge had ordered him in both May and July to be sent there. He had been arrested for stealing $5 worth of snack food.

Responding to the inspector general's report, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services' interim commissioner Jack Barber said in a letter released Monday that his department needs more money from the General Assembly and better cooperation among various agencies, news outlets reported.

"Legislative mandates should be considered," he wrote. "Even the best and most qualified team is ineffective without access to the necessary records."

He added that his department "received limited cooperation from outside entities in this case."

Barber's letter does not identify which entities were uncooperative or which records it wasn't able to access.

Neither the department nor the inspector general's office interviewed employees with the Portsmouth General District Court, who were supposed to send the judge's initial order for Mitchell's transfer to Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg. That order was found tucked in the drawer of an Eastern State Hospital employee's desk and had never been entered into a log.