RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia attorney general is asking the Justice Department to investigate a regional jail after the deaths of two inmates.
Mark Herring said Friday in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch that he wants a “trusted, independent voice” on whether inmates are receiving proper and timely medical care at Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth.
The jail is run by a local board, and medical service is provided by a contractor.
Henry Stewart, 60, filled out an emergency grievance form at the jail Aug. 4 saying he had blacked out twice in less than 24 hours and couldn’t hold down food or water. He died two days later.
The grievance form said a nurse determined his concerns “not to be an emergency.” It said Stewart had refused medication and had been evaluated by off-site specialists. Stewart’s family found the form among his belongings at the jail.
In August 2015, 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell, who was mentally ill, died in the jail. His family filed a lawsuit in May in which other inmates said correctional officials physically abused and withheld food from Mitchell. A medical examiner said Mitchell died of heart failure accompanied by severe weight loss.
Mitchell was jailed in April 2015 after he was accused of stealing junk food from a convenience store. He was ordered to a mental hospital, but his paperwork was stuffed in a hospital employee’s desk drawer and he was never sent there.
“These deaths have generated serious allegations, and the lack clarity surrounding these now repeat incidents shows an acute need for an inquiry to determine whether there are practices that are incompatible with Eighth Amendment rights and guarantees (post-conviction) and Fourteenth Amendment rights and guarantees (pre and post-convictions) provided to all citizens under the United States Constitution,” Herring wrote.
The Eighth Amendment bans cruel or unusual punishment. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection.
“It is my hope that an investigation into whether there are patterns and practices of civil rights violations occurring at HRRJ will inform the public, and help identify any necessary steps that can be taken or resources that can be provided to bring about any systemic change necessary to prevent future deaths at the HRRJ to rebuild the public’s trust,” Herring, a Democrat, wrote to Lynch.