- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) - Officials at a Virginia jail months ago found security footage they thought had been deleted that was recorded outside of the cell of a mentally ill inmate who died last year.

Hampton Roads Regional Jail Assistant Superintendent David L. Simons declined to release the video recorded outside 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell’s cell, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/2al2HWF).

Mitchell died in his cell in August 2015 after losing so much weight over 101 days that his heart stopped. He had been arrested for stealing $5 worth of junk food.

Despite multiple investigations, the circumstances leading to his death are unclear. An internal investigation cleared correctional employees of wrongdoing, jail officials said.

Lt. Col. Eugene Taylor III, the jail’s assistant superintendent, told the newspaper in April that footage of Mitchell receiving food through a slot in the door had been automatically recorded over. Officials said they emailed a letter on May 9 to the Times-Dispatch telling reporters the video still existed, but the newspaper never received that message.

Mitchell’s family filed a lawsuit in May accusing correctional officials of physically abusing Mitchell and withholding food from him before his death.

The footage would presumably show how often guards saw Mitchell, said Mark Krudys, an attorney representing Mitchell’s family.

In withholding the video from the public, Simons cited an exemption in state law that gives him the discretion to withhold records related to inmates’ incarceration and investigations into allegations of wrongdoing. He did not explain how the video was recovered.

Del. Marcus B. Simon called for the jail to release the video.

“That is outrageous,” said Simon, who is a member of the House of Delegates’ public safety committee. “There’s a lot of discretion in FOIA . but because something doesn’t have to be released doesn’t mean it shouldn’t and doesn’t mean it can’t.”

The Mitchell video was viewed by Taylor and the jail’s internal investigators but was not seen by outside agencies such as the Office of State Inspector General, the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, or the Portsmouth Police Department, all of which conducted inquiries into Mitchell’s death.

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Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com

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