Jamycheal Mitchell, Jailed for $5 Theft, Found Dead in Cell

August 28th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

A 24-year-old black man jailed since April for an alleged petty theft was found dead in his cell in a Portsmouth, Virginia jail early last Wednesday, the Guardian reports.

The man, Jamycheal Mitchell, reportedly suffered from mental health problems, and was held without bail for almost four months after he was accused of stealing Mountain Dew, a Snickers candy bar, and a Zebra Cake, worth a total of $5, from a 7-Eleven in April. Prison officials told the Guardian that there were no obvious outward signs of injury, and that the death was "deemed 'natural causes,'" although members of his family said they believe Mitchell died of starvation after refusing meals and medication.

The news comes just days after the leaked autopsy of William L. Chapman II, an unarmed 18-year-old shot dead by Portsmouth officer Stephen Rankin, showed that Chapman was shot from a distance. Chapman was shot the same day of Mitchell's arrest.

According to Mitchell's family, the 24-year-old had suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for about five years, and took the antipsychotic drugs Prolixin and Zyprexin, as well as a mood stabilizer, Depakote, for his symptoms. Prison officials reportedly prescribed him a different antipsychotic and Cogentin, meant to null the side effects of other drugs. Mitchell apparently refused to take those drugs, and had been declining meals.

Over just four months, Mitchell's incarceration was marked by multiple transfers, the effects of a backlogged state health system, and bureaucratic confusion. According to the Guardian, Mitchell stayed in Portsmouth's city jail for nearly three weeks following his arrest before he was transferred across town to the regional jail in May. More than a week after the transfer, a judge ruled that Mitchell was not competent to stand trial, and ordered another transfer to a state-run mental health treatment center in nearby Williamsburg.

According to the county clerk, inmates who are unfit to stand trial are transferred to mental health hospitals to "restore the defendant to competence," but only when the hospital has room. In Mitchell's case, Eastern State hospital could not accommodate him, and he languished in jail until his death on August 19, the Guardian reports.

"He was just deteriorating so fast," Roxanne Adams, Mitchell's aunt, told the Guardian. "I kept calling the jail, but they said they couldn't transfer him because there were no available beds. So I called Eastern State, too, and people there said they didn't know anything about the request or not having bed availability." Adams also said that since Mitchell's "mind was gone because he wasn't taking his meds," he did not provide a visitors list to prison staff, meaning that his family could not see him.

A county clerk told the paper that it was unclear which state agency was in charge of overseeing Mitchell's transfer to the hospital, and officials from the court, the police department, and the jail, could not explain why Mitchell was never allowed to be released on bail.

A spokesperson from the Portsmouth police department could not comment, citing an ongoing investigation. An official at the Hampton Roads regional jail in Portsmouth, where Mitchell was found, did not return ATTN:'s phone calls Friday morning.