Suicide brings fresh scrutiny to jail over inmate deaths

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 13, 2017 9:22 PM

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A Virginia jail under federal investigation over the care of inmates who've died there is facing fresh scrutiny after a prisoner hanged himself with his bedsheets over the weekend.

Jakim Funderburk, 20, died early Sunday morning, three months after entering the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth. He suffered from depression and had attempted suicide in December at a jail in nearby Chesapeake, officials said.

Funderburk's family said Monday that the facility should have prevented his hanging. And a local chapter of the NAACP said the jail has now failed three inmates who've died under questionable circumstances in two years.

"We knew he had problems. They knew he had problems. They should have known better," uncle Gary Funderburk said.

Jail officials said the Chesapeake man's mental health appeared to be improving and that he was taking his medication. His death is still being investigated.

Funderburk was arrested last year and jailed in Chesapeake on charges including abduction, malicious assault and armed burglary. A deputy there found him "with a sheet around his neck hanging," Chesapeake Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Janelle Scott wrote in an email.

Funderburk spent five days in the hospital before being transferred to Hampton Roads.

Hampton Roads assistant superintendent Linda Bryant said he was on suicide watch for a week after the transfer and then was allowed to move to less restrictive parts of the mental health wing, which he wanted to do.

"He was being routinely evaluated," Bryant said. "He was improving, which is why it's devastating for all of us."

Hampton Roads has drawn widespread attention in the past two years over the care of mentally ill, depressed or physically sick inmates.

Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, an inmate diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, died there in 2015. A medical examiner said the cause was heart failure accompanied by severe weight loss.

His family has filed a lawsuit in which inmates claim that correctional officials physically abused him and withheld food. Mitchell's death has also prompted the U.S. Justice Department to open an investigation into the jail.

In 2016, inmate Henry Stewart, 60, died two days after filling out an emergency grievance form for medical care. He said he had blacked out twice in less than 24 hours and couldn't hold down food or water. The grievance form said a nurse determined his concerns "not to be an emergency."

On Monday, Funderburk's family grappled with his suicide. Aunt Barbara Ricks said that, when he was 9, his mother died after a heart transplant.

"He never got over that hurt," she said.

Ricks said she routinely called the jail because of concerns about his medication. Funderburk told her the four pills he took a day made him "feel funny."

"They knew me well there," she said. "They knew my concern about it happening again."