Young Black Man Jailed Since April For $5 Theft Found Dead In Cell

Indrani Sengupta
A young black man was arrested back in April for stealing $5 worth of groceries. He ended up spending four months in jail, locked up and forgotten.

And he may have spent even longer, had he not perished first.  

Portsmouth, Virginia resident Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, had a history of mental health problems, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Likewise, Judge Morton Whitlow deemed him not competent to stand trial. Judge Whitlow ordered that he be transferred to a state-run mental health facility (Eastern State Hospital) for treatment. 

But the hospital had no vacancy at the time, and authorities did not care to pursue further alternatives. Mitchell remained detained in jail. Officials saw a man who’d been deemed unfit to stand trial and figured he had the mental stability enough to survive the months-long isolation, injustice, and indignity of a disproportionately harsh punishment.

As if this case wasn’t already winning the “miscarriage of justice” bingo, Mitchell was found dead in his cell this past Wednesday. Senior prison officials say his death is not being treated as suspicious, that it is being seen as the result of “natural causes.”  

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But Mitchell’s family believes he starved to death after refusing meals and medication at the jail. His aunt, Roxanne Adams, who is a registered nurse, says that Mitchell has barely any muscle mass left by the time of his death.

“He was just deteriorating so fast. 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.”

Some would argue that the officials’ hands were tied. After all, they couldn’t simply magic a hospital bed out of thin air. But what they could have done was let Mitchell go. What they could have done was exercise some common sense, and admit that the cost of punishing Mitchell were far outweighing whatever their blind devotion to the law may have been gaining them (profit?)

For all of his struggles with mental illness and holding down work, Mitchell was never a violent man.

“He just chain-smoked and made people laugh. He never did anything serious, never harmed anybody.”

A non-violent, petty offense such as this would have been easy to forgive. It would have been the just thing to do. Who was the justice system helping by keeping Mitchell Imprisoned?

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