Justice Department opens investigation into Hampton Roads Regional Jail

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the conditions at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, a spokesperson announced Monday.

The investigation is being conducted by the Civil Rights Division's Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorneys Office of the Eastern District of Virginia.

"The investigation will focus on whether the jail violates the constitutional rights of inmates to adequate medical and mental health care; violates the constitutional rights of inmates who have mental illness by secluding them in isolation for prolonged time periods; and violates the rights of inmates who have mental illness by denying them access to services, programs and activities because of their disability,"  a release issued by the Department of Justice said.

Interim Jail Superintendent/Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe told News 3 in September that about 70 to 80% of the jail's population needs some type of medical treatment.

“All prisoners, including those with mental illness, have a constitutional right to receive necessary medical care, treatment and services. The Justice Department will conduct a thorough investigation, led by the facts and the law, to review conditions in the jail," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.

The department has not reached any conclusions regarding the allegations.

"We expected to hear from DOJ and look forward to cooperating with the DOJ investigation going forward. The Hampton Roads Regional Jail staff has been working tirelessly to improve jail operations and delivery of services. We are confident that DOJ will recognize the positive efforts being made. We look forward to DOJ providing additional expert insight and recommendations during their investigation," McCabe said in a statement Monday.

Attorney General Mark Herring requested that the Department of Justice investigate after 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell and Henry Stewart died in the jail.

Herring released the following statement Monday:

"This is an important development that should help provide some answers about the troubling recent deaths at the jail, as well as a broader picture of how medical and mental health care have been provided and what changes have been made under the jail's new leadership. The public needs to know what has been going on in this facility and whether people's constitutional rights are being protected."

On August 19, 2015, 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell's body was found inside the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. The lawsuit says he withered away in jail and died from wasting syndrome.

A judge’s order that would have sent Mitchell to a state mental health facility had been sitting in a file drawer for weeks before his death.

A Portsmouth judge ordered Mitchell to Eastern State Hospital for mental health treatment two times. A state investigation revealed the second order on July 31, 2015 made it to the hospital admission coordinator, but she never placed Mitchell on the waiting list. Mitchell was arrested in April 2015 for stealing $5 in food from a Portsmouth convenience store. The investigation into Mitchell's death was completed in early December.

Mitchell's family filed a $60 million lawsuit.

Henry Stewart died in early August 2016. His family said they received an emergency grievance form returned to them with the rest of his possessions. The form states that Stewart repeatedly begged for medical help.

Colonel David Simons retired as Jail Superintendent in September. Assistant Jail Superintendent Eugene Taylor also retired. The jail's personnel committee voted to appoint Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe as interim superintendent.

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