An­a­lyst prob­ing Va. jail deaths is clos­ing cases, but de­tails stay hid­den

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY PA­TRICK WIL­SON

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.

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