(PORTSMOUTH, Va.) -- A mentally ill man who died in jail was repeatedly denied food and made to live in filthy conditions, dying after mysteriously wasting away, according to a $60 million lawsuit filed by his family against the jail and health care providers.
Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, was arrested in April 2015 after stealing about $5 worth of sweets and soda from a local convenience store, his aunt Roxanne Adams told ABC News Tuesday. Four months later, he was found dead in his cell at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia.
"I just want some answers," Adams said, "He was the most sweetest, most generous, guy you could ever meet."
Adams added that Mitchell suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and was experiencing an "episode" when he was arrested for shoplifting.
"Every time he was in one of his episodes, in his mind it wasn't like stealing," Adams said, "He never had to steal, he always had money, we always took good care of him. He just couldn't mentally comprehend."
The federal lawsuit, filed in Virginia federal court, claims that Mitchell was mistreated, physically and verbally abused, ignored and "regularly" denied food.
The court papers say that according to one inmate, he would sometimes receive "only one meal a day or one meal over several days."
"Mitchell would suffer dramatic, significant weight loss that was never adequately addressed," the suit says.
During his time in jail he lost 40-50 pounds, court papers say and his aunt said that he was nearly unrecognizable. "He looked like an old man," Adams told ABC News.
Court papers say that Adams made "well over 40 calls to jail officials seeking help for her nephew."
"HRRJ officials told Adams that Mitchell's weight loss was due to his failure to eat; however Jail detainees/inmates have stated that Mitchell ate ravenously when he was provided food," the papers say. "Jail officials told Adams that they would follow up on her concerns, but they never did."
The lawsuit also alleges that the jail did not provide Mitchell with a working toilet.
According to the suit, the medical examiner listed Mitchell's cause of death as "probable cardiac arrhythmia accompanying wasting syndrome of unknown" cause. The office said he was "nearly cachetic," meaning "the loss of body mass that cannot be reversed nutritionally."
NaphCare, which provided healthcare for the jail and is one of the defendants, said in a statement, "The passing of Jamycheal Mitchell is a tragedy. Upon his incarceration at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, Mr. Mitchell’s mental illness was immediately identified by NaphCare’s providers who took appropriate steps to have Mr. Mitchell transferred to a state inpatient mental health facility where he could receive treatment. Mr. Mitchell received appropriate care from NaphCare’s competent and dedicated providers at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. The investigative reports of his death suggest gaps and failures within the State’s mental health system prevented Mr. Mitchell from receiving the inpatient care he needed outside of the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. The allegations of indifference and neglect against NaphCare’s providers are false and unfounded. NaphCare will vigorously defend these false allegations against itself and its providers. As this matter is now in active litigation, NaphCare intends to respect the integrity of the litigation process."
The suit claims that a judge had ordered Mitchell transferred to an outside mental health facility, but the move never happened. Among the defendants are others, besides NaphCare, who were allegedly negligent in the transfer process.
Adams told ABC News, "Not one day goes by that I don't think about my nephew. No amount of money could ever give my nephew back. We want answers, we want change."
The jail did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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