City leaders discuss additional oversight of Richmond Jail after another inmate dies while in custody

Sheriff's Office wants to charge $1,000 for info about assaults at Richmond jail
Posted at 8:04 PM, Dec 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-12 21:33:02-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- A growing number of Richmond city officials are raising questions and concerns about safety conditions inside the city jail after another inmate died while in custody Monday.

Monday's death marked the second time an inmate died at the Richmond City Justice Center in just two months.

“I’m just upset," said 8th District Councilmember Reva Trammell. "I mean, what is going on in that city jail? How are these inmates dying in this jail when they’re supposed to be protected when they go to jail?"

Sheriff Antionette Irving's office has released limited information so far about Monday's inmate death, but in a press release said police, the fire department, emergency crews, and the Richmond Ambulance Authority responded to the jail for a medical emergency.

Richmond Police and Internal Affairs conducted an initial review of the incident, and the medical examiner will determine the manner and cause of death.

Another inmate died while in custody at the jail in November. While that inmate's manner and cause of death are also still being determined, Irving's office said it was the result of a medical emergency and that no foul play was suspected.

In an interview with CBS 6 two weeks ago, Irving, the elected official who oversees all things at the justice center, denied a drug overdose occurred.

“There was no signs of anything that would have created an overdose. The person was under the appropriate protocols when they came in and being checked when they were supposed to be by our staff as well as by our medical staff," Irving said.

Both incidents came as Trammell, who also serves as chair of city council's public safety committee, called for a state investigation into the jail.

Trammell said she remains concerned about violence inside the jail, the safety of inmates and staff, reported assaults on deputies, and a significant staffing shortage. Currently, Sheriff Irving is down about 160 deputies out of 385 positions.

“The deputies fear for their lives. Other inmates fear for their lives. Their loved ones are calling me, begging me to help," Trammell said. "The inmates-- they feel nobody is listening to their cries."

Trammell added a number of deputies have told her they're significantly concerned about safety inside the jail but can't speak out due to a fear of retaliation.

CBS 6 obtained more than a dozen jail incident reports, which showed just in November, two separate assaults on deputies and another deputy who was hurt while moving an inmate.

When reporter Tyler Layne asked Sheriff Irving in a recent interview how frequently deputies are assaulted on the job, Irving said, "Not often. We may have one this month, and we may have one six months or a year down the road. But we're not having assaults every day. We're not having assaults every month."

Under the Freedom of Information Act, CBS 6 requested the total number of assaults on staff for 2022 and 2021 along with information about charges against inmates, staffing numbers, and overtime pay.

The Richmond Sheriff's Office said it would charge CBS 6 $1,086 for the requested information due to four employees working for a total of 21 hours to gather the necessary records.

“A thousand dollars for you to get information that needs to be shared with the public, with the taxpayers in Richmond who pay for that jail over there?” Trammell said. “Why should CBS [6] have to pay when you’re doing your job? You’re giving this information to the public who is demanding answers.”

For comparison, the Chesterfield Sheriff's Office provided CBS 6 with the number of assaults on deputies at the Chesterfield Jail in 2021 and 2022 free of charge and within 24 hours.

At the Chesterfield Jail, which has about half the inmate population as Richmond, there have been eight total incidents since January 2021 to now.

CBS 6 has asked additional questions about the FOIA cost estimate and the Richmond Sheriff's Office said it would follow up.

Moving forward, two additional council members said they're open to the idea of additional oversight of the jail, though they're not sure how it'd be applied.

“I believe oversight is never a negative thing, whether it’s me as a pastor, a councilperson, or a family member, and we can’t overlook the need for that," said Mike Jones, 9th District City Councilmember.

4th District Councilmember Kristen Nye said even though Sheriff Irving does not report to the council, she said it's incumbent upon city leaders to ensure a safe environment for inmates and staff.

“For oversight, I’d need to know more of what that’d look like, but in general, we definitely need more information about what is going on with the safety of our inmates, with the staffing challenges, and safety of the staff that work there," Nye said.

Nye said she's aware that mental health challenges and community issues that integrate into the jail may be contributing to violence and should be addressed.

However, she added, "But at the end of the day, this should be a safe environment for everyone who’s in there, and we’re seeing ongoing problems.”

A spokesperson for Governor Youngkin's Office said the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, Bob Mosier, is aware of the most recent inmate death. Last month, as Trammell started speaking out about issues at the jail, Mosier requested information from the jail and got in contact with local officials.



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