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Groups urge release of report on Virginia inmate death

The Associated Press//March 29, 2016

Groups urge release of report on Virginia inmate death

The Associated Press//March 29, 2016

(AP) Four advocacy organizations are asking Virginia’s governor to turn up the heat on a state investigation into a mentally ill man’s death in a Portsmouth jail.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the organizations sent a letter Monday urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to demand that the state inspector general’s office immediately release a report on Jamycheal Mitchell’s death. The 24-year-old, who had been arrested last April for allegedly stealing $5 worth of snack food from a convenience store, died in August after losing so much weight his heart stopped.

The organizations said they were concerned about the likelihood of future deaths if the problems that led to Mitchell’s death are not remedied.

“Swift action from the Office of the State Inspector General is not only appropriate, but also imperative,” the letter says.

McAuliffe, however, indicated he’s not inclined to do as the organizations ask.

Brian Coy, a spokesman for McAuliffe, said the governor wants a thorough investigation and “has no plans to interfere” with the process.

Julie Grimes, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, told The Associated Press in an email Monday that the report is still in the works and will be released when it is finished. She said the office is still reviewing a report released last week by the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services. That report cited clerical errors that kept Mitchell from being transferred to a mental health facility, but it did not address why more was not done about his rapidly worsening health while he was in jail.

James Boyd, president of the Portsmouth chapter of the NAACP, said the inspector general’s pledge to release the report when it is completed does not reflect the kind of urgency his organizations and the others want to see.

“Obviously, we want a thorough investigation, but we don’t want it to drag on, get bogged down,” he told the AP in a telephone interview. He said some sort of update would be appropriate “so citizens will have trust in the system.”

Joining the Portsmouth NAACP in signing the letter were the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Virginia, Voices for Virginia’s Children and Virginia Organization of Consumers Asserting Leadership.

G. Douglas Bevelacqua, who was a Virginia inspector general over behavioral health and developmental services from 2010 to 2014, has questioned how much time the inspector general is taking to complete the report. He said his department issued a report on the near-fatal attack on state Sen. Creigh Deeds by his son within four months of the incident.

The office’s “failure to issue its report in a timely manner is dangerously negligent because of the thousands of inmates in Virginia’s jails with serious mental illness who, absent an institutional understanding of how Mr. Mitchell died, remain at risk for a similar tragic outcome,” Bevelacqua said, endorsing the letter to McAuliffe.

Mitchell, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, had been ordered by a judge in May to be transferred to Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg for treatment. According to the report issued last week, the paperwork ended up in an “overwhelmed” state employee’s desk drawer, so Mitchell was never put on the waiting list for a bed.

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