Analyst probing Va. jail deaths is closing cases, but details stay hidden
A new state jail death investigator reviewing cases back to July 1 has closed 17 while 36 remain pending, including the death of an 18-year-old on Tuesday in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail.
The Board of Corrections, a panel of citizens appointed by the governor, has discussed the cases in closed sessions. No information about any of the closed cases has been made public.
“Any policies on this will be set by the board itself,” Michael Kelly, a spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, said by email. “We will of course advise the board on its
obligations, responsibilities and authorities under the law, but ultimately, it will be up to the board to decide how they want to handle these situations.”
T. Stephen Goff, the investigator, was hired part time with funding approved by the General Assembly after the controversial death of Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in 2015.
Mitchell, who had mental health problems, was being held on allegations of stealing snacks from a convenience store. He died after losing significant weight during 101 days in custody. Numerous state agencies said they were legally restricted from investigating.
Goff started in November, as did a second part-time employee who handles administrative duties.
Twenty-one inmates have died in Virginia jail custody this year, according to Board of Corrections data.
Those cases include deaths in which an inmate with a medical emergency was rushed to a hospital and died there.
The inmate who died in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail on Tuesday was Davageah K. Jones, 18, who was being held on allegations of breaking and entering and possession of marijuana in Chesapeake.
An inmate died, apparently of natural causes, in the Henrico County Jail on Tuesday as well. Wayne Burnett Marshall, 45, was watching TV in a pod when he appeared to have a stroke, said Sheriff Mike Wade.
Jail staff members treated him immediately and he was taken to a hospital where he died, the sheriff said. He was being held on sex trafficking charges.
Of the 36 pending jail death cases in Virginia, 22 appeared to be from natural causes, Goff said Wednesday after a meeting of the Board of Corrections. One case is considered to have an unknown cause, two were homicides and 11 were suicides, he said.
Bruce Cruser, executive director of the advocacy group Mental Health America of Virginia, questions why the board isn’t sharing more information with the public, wants to know how many deaths involved mental health or substance abuse, and said the board should explain what it means when a case is “closed.”
A committee of the board met in closed session Wednesday for 2½ hours to discuss jail deaths.
Later, Chairwoman Phyllis Randall said she was leaving the board because the time commitment of handling that and her duties as chairwoman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors was too much.
“I am only leaving because my schedule is just so busy that I cannot do this as well as I’d like to, and if I don’t do it well I won’t do it at all,” she said.
Of the 36 pending jail death cases in Virginia, 22 appeared to be from natural causes, investigator T. Stephen Goff said Wednesday after a meeting of the Board of Corrections. One case is considered to have an unknown cause, two were homicides and 11 were suicides, he said.