RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An attorney representing the family of a mentally ill inmate who died at a Virginia jail is criticizing officials' decision not to save video footage captured outside the man's cell in the days leading up to his death.
Lt. Col. Eugene Taylor III, an assistant superintendent at the jail, told the Richmond Times Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1X2hyts) earlier this month that video images outside Jamycheal Mitchell's cell showed him receiving food through a slot in a door.
But when the newspaper sought a copy of the video, it was told it no longer exists.
Taylor said the system automatically records over existing video every 18 days. The video wasn't saved because it didn't show any type of criminality or negligence, Taylor said.
Mark Krudys, an attorney representing Mitchell's family, said it's inappropriate for jail officials to make that decision on their own.
"You have a death of a severely emaciated person who was mentally ill in his cell," Krudys said. "Those circumstances are highly unusual, and you would have thought they would have preserved anything and everything related to those circumstances, including the videotape."
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 to be sent there. He had been arrested for stealing $5 worth of snack food.
Taylor said he saw on the video that Mitchell received food through the door and empty trays were returned. The cameras didn't show whether or not Mitchell actually ate the food, Taylor said.
He said the jail only saves video when there's "something significant we need to review."
"If there's nothing on the video that's going to show any type of criminality or negligence, we're not going to maintain it," Taylor said.
Krudys said he had asked the jail in a letter 14 days after Mitchell's death to preserve all records, documents and videos regarding Mitchell. He said the video would presumably show how often Mitchell was checked on by medical staff and guards and how often his cell was cleaned.
"Were medical rounds being undertaken?" he said. "Were any medical staff going in to see him to take vital signs? Were social workers going in to see him? All of those types of things. How is he being treated?"
Taylor and the jail's internal investigators were the only ones who viewed the video. It was not seen by outside agencies like the Office of the Inspector General, which also conducted an investigation into Mitchell's death.