NORFOLK, Va. – The family of a mentally ill man who died in a Virginia jail cell after losing so much weight his heart stopped filed a $60 million wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against several jail officials and health-care providers.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, claims correctional officers at the Portsmouth jail physically abused and withheld food from Jamycheal Mitchell. One inmate said some officers named in the lawsuit treated Mitchell "like a circus animal," the lawsuit says. Mitchell also was dragged, punched, kicked and sprayed with mace by jailers who goaded medical personnel into ignoring the inmate's deteriorating health, according to the lawsuit.
Lawyers for the main defendants — the Hampton Roads Regional Jail Authority and Naphcare Inc., which provides medical services at the Portsmouth jail — did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
Mitchell, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was jailed in April 2015 after allegedly stealing $5 worth of snacks from a convenience store. He was found dead in his cell three months later after losing 46 pounds. A medical examiner said Mitchell died of heart failure accompanied by "wasting syndrome," or severe weight loss.
State investigators have said that a judge twice ordered Mitchell transferred to a state mental hospital, but his name was never placed on the hospital's waiting list because of clerical errors.
Two state agencies investigated the death but were unable to determine exactly what happened at the jail.
Jail officials conducted their own investigation and cleared employees of any wrongdoing. Details of that investigation have not been made public.