PORTSMOUTH, Va. - A new Superintendent for Hampton Roads Regional Jail (HRRJ) was sworn-in this morning just days after jail officials confirmed that an inmate died.
"I just want to make sure that what happened is not covered up," Ronaldo Myers said in a sit-down interview on Monday. "We want to be completely transparent."
Myers was unanimously chosen as the jail Superintendent by the Personnel Committee last month, and began his first day on March 13th.
About 24 hours earlier, officials confirmed an inmate, Jakim Funderburk, committed suicide.
"When I got here that morning, we had a nurse in tears. We had two officers trying to keep it together, but very, very upset," said Linda Bryant, the assistant superintendent of the jail.
Funderburk's family tells News 3 the 20-year-old tried to commit suicide in December while at the Chesapeake City Jail and was moved to the HRRJ a few days later. The Chesapeake City Jail confirms this claim. Family now wonders if the HRRJ was keeping a close enough eye on Funderburk, but Bryant says his condition was known.
"This young man was troubled. He had some serious mental health issues too. In the court file there is a motion for a competency hearing to take place for his charges," she said.
Currently the HRRJ is under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the death of Jamycheal Mitchell, an inmate who died in his cell while waiting for a bed at a mental health facility. Mitchell had stolen about five dollars worth of items from a Portsmouth convenience store.
While the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Mitchell and Funderburk are entirely different, jail officials say both suffered from mental health issues.
“Jails in general are one of the biggest – and I hate to use the word reservoir, but I’m going to use the word reservoir – because we capture a lot of the mentally ill, and we end up keeping them in jail,” Myers told News 3's Merris Badcock.
This is not the first time Myers has had to deal with a DOJ investigation. Press releases from the DOJ show while Myer's was head of the Alvin S. Glenn Dentention Center in Columbia, S.C., a guard plead guilty to beating a mentally ill inmate.
The incident sparked an investigation by the DOJ. We asked Myers about the incident. He says they fully cooperated with investigators, and despite the circumstances, there was no need to change procedure after the incident since it was the procedure itself that had been violated in the first place.
"What you had was an officer who did something he was not supposed to do, and the other officers heard about it and failed to report it," Myers said.
The HRRJ is tasked with looking after many of the area's mentally ill inmates because they have more resources to do so. Officials say of the 1,100 current inmates, about 600 of them are on psychotropic medications.
As for the current DOJ investigation, Myers promises absolute transparency to investigators and to the public.
"The doors are open. Our books are open," said Myers. "I can guarantee they will have complete access. There will not be anything that we try to hide.”
On Sunday, around 12:33 a.m., the jail says Jakim Funderburk was found unresponsive in the jail.
A jail officer conducting a security check found Funderburk tied with a bed sheet around his neck hanging from the top bunk.
He was pronounced dead at 1:29 a.m.
It is being investigated internally and by the Portsmouth Police Department.
In response to the death, the Portsmouth NAACP said this is the latest incident in an unfortunately growing list of inmate deaths at the correctional facility.
Members announced Monday they're keeping a close eye on the treatment of another inmate, Carlton Dillard.
"We are focused on making sure that Carlton receives the proper medical attention," said President James Boyd during a press conference. "We hope that he will get that attention within the next 24 hours."
The NAACP also released the following statement:
"We are outraged with the continuing neglect and mistreatment of inmates at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. The jail’s credibility and the public’s trust in the jail administration are steadily declining with every violation of human and civil rights. Unfortunately, we do not see this situation improving drastically in the near future which is again the reason why we strongly recommended the deferment of the hiring of a new superintendent until the Department of Justice concluded its investigative findings. We still maintain several concerns regarding the decision to move forward with the hiring in lieu of recent situations that were publically brought to light that happened at the Glenn Allen Detention Center in 2013 regarding the mistreatment of mentally ill patients.
We urge the Department of Justice to continue its investigation into potential violations of inmates’ constitutional rights at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail with utmost urgency. We will not be silent on this matter. We will leverage our community and legislative partnerships to make substantial changes at the jail.
In the coming days, we will address the community regarding this case and other circumstances at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail."