On April 22, 2015, Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, a schizophrenic, walked into a 7-11 in Portsmouth, and took a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake.
The value of these three food items was $5.05.
He was charged with trespass, and petit larceny, misdemeanors.
What do you think his bail should have been?
Whatever you think, you likely got it wrong.
He was denied bail entirely, and held in custody at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, according to the Portsmouth Case Information System.
Every person accused of a crime, particularly a misdemeanor, has a constitutional right to be released on bail if they are not a risk to themselves or to the community.
There is no indication that Jamycheal posed any risk when arrested.
But the Magistrate denied him bail, and kept him in custody.
Jamycheal wasn’t released from jail a month later.
Instead, Judge Morton V. Whitlow ordered Jamycheal to be transferred to the Eastern State Hospital since he was deemed incompetent to stand trial on the misdemeanor shoplifting charges, and presumably remain there until he was competent to stand trial.
If that sounds bizarre, this Dickensian nightmare for Jamycheal and his family was hardly over.
Nor would it end anything like Victor Hugo’s famously wronged fictional inmate, Jean val Jean, who stole a loaf of bread, rather than a Snickers.
There was no room at Eastern State for Jamycheal. So he remained at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. In fact, Jamycheal was never taken to receive any treatment.
Jamycheal reportedly paced his cell naked, ate little or nothing, lost weight, and had no visitors.
On July 31, 2015, when he appeared before the court, he was visibly thinner, his face emaciated, but the Court simply reiterated his earlier direction, that Jamycheal be transferred to the Eastern State Hospital.
Having seen Jamycheal in court on July 31, 2015, a least one family member reportedly called the jail and asked that he be transferred to the emergency room. But that didn’t happen.
On about August 17, 2015, Jamycheal was dead.
Jamycheal lost 36 pounds while in custody. It’s a bitter irony that a petit crime to steal food snacks ended in death by starvation.
The Supreme Court decided in 1962, in Robinson v. California, that “[a] State may not punish a person for being ‘mentally ill …”
After all, the Court said, “To inflict punishment for having a disease is to treat the individual as a diseased thing rather than as a sick human being.”
Denying a jailed inmate bail because you claim he’s sick but then doing nothing to treat his illness is cruel.
In Estelle v. Gamble, in 1976, the Supreme Court cited the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and confirmed it was “the government’s obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration.”
It stands to reason that Jamycheal, as an inmate, had to rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs.
In Estelle, the Supreme Court “conclude[d] that deliberate indifference to [the] serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,’ … proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.”
When California was indifferent to the medical needs of its inmates, the Supreme Court told the State to release the inmates it couldn’t treat.
How many more need to die, or go untreated, before Virginia gets it right or is under a federal court order itself?
We should also inquire if the Commonwealth’s indifference as to bail and medical treatment disproportionally affects black lives more.