With 3 inmates dead at Richmond Jail in 3 months, sheriff addresses drug problems

Posted at 6:16 PM, Jan 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-12 09:33:29-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- An inmate at the Richmond City Jail died in his cell on Wednesday morning, marking the jail's third inmate death in just three months.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Sheriff Antionette Irving said inmates and staff found the man unresponsive in a pod of about 40 to 50 people. He was pronounced dead by medical staff and police said no foul play is suspected.

Irving said at this time, it's too soon to determine whether or not drugs were involved in the inmate's death.

When asked if staff administered Narcan to the inmate, which is used to treat opioid overdoses, Irving responded that Narcan can be administered even if someone is not overdosing.

"You can administer Narcan to a person that has not overdosed if they're unresponsive," Irving said. "It's not going to harm them."

Asked if that's a usual practice, she said medical providers typically make the determination about whether to use Narcan.

“I’m frustrated. I’m mad," said Richmond City Councilmember Reva Trammell, reacting to the inmate's death. “This is wrong. We have been talking about it for way too damn long.”

For months, Trammell has been raising concerns about safety conditions inside the jail.

Since March, four inmates have died while in custody. The Medical Examiner's Office confirmed one death was the result of a drug overdose, but the causes of death for the other three are still pending.

In light of the deaths, along with what Trammell considered a "disturbing rate" of attacks on deputies, she requested that the Board of Local and Regional Jails launch an investigation into the jail. She also requested the assistance of Virginia's Secretary of Public Safety Bob Mosier.

However, Trammell said she hasn't received any updates from state officials as to where a potential investigation stands.

“Why the hell isn’t somebody on top of this now? Doesn’t this matter?" Trammell said. "What about the members of the General Assembly? How come they're not saying nothing? How come they never say nothing unless they want our votes?"

She added her confidence in the leadership of Sheriff Irving, who was elected to oversee the jail, has shrunk.

“Zero. I have no confidence in her at all whatsoever," Trammell said.

But Irving dismissed Trammell's concerns, defending her leadership.

“Do you have confidence in your ability to lead?” reporter Tyler Layne asked Wednesday.

“Absolutely. I have confidence in myself as well as my staff. Councilwoman Trammell can feel how she feels. She has still not come over to our facility," Irving said.

Though Irving said she didn't have any new information in the latest string of inmate deaths, she did acknowledge that drugs are a problem in the jail, adding it's like that at other facilities too.

“We do our best to make sure that they don't come in through the back door or the front door. We continuously do searches to ensure that there's safety, but as it has been, I've been in this business over 30 years, and we can say that it has been in all institutions,” she said.

The sheriff said the main ways in which drugs are brought into the jail are through packages and through the intake process. She added staff members are checking for contraband through mail and clothing.

"If you are creative enough to want something to come in, you can get it in here if you want to. That's why we are continuously upgrading our security systems," Irving said.

The sheriff said her staff meets requirements of checking all pods and cells twice an hour but admitted it's a challenge when she's down around 170 deputies. That's about half of her total sworn positions.

“Do you feel like you’re having a hard time providing that oversight?” Layne asked.

“It’s difficult, but our staff is working really, really hard to do the things that need to be done," Irving responded.

When asked if the Commonwealth is investigating the jail, Irving confirmed that she's been in contact with state officials, which she said is typical.

"There's always an investigation going on here. There's constant oversight by the local board to ensure that we're doing the things that we are supposed to be doing, and if we're not, they bring those things to our attention. If there's an investigation that they have, they may not even alarm us to that," she said.

Ryan McCord, Executive Director of the Board of Local and Regional Jails, did not respond to CBS 6's inquiry as of Wednesday afternoon. When previously asked if the board was launching an investigation into the jail for compliance with state regulations, McCord said he did not have a comment.

CBS 6 also reached out to a spokesperson for Secretary Mosier who provided the following response:

“The Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security is monitoring the situation and engaging with Director McCord on the follow-up.”

During a press conference hosted by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus at the General Assembly, in which Delegate Lamont Bagby, Delegate Jeff Bourne, and Senator Jennifer McClellan were in attendance, CBS 6 asked the Richmond delegation to address the recent deaths at the city jail and if they supported a state investigation.

Delegate Bagby responded, "I don't have anything on that, but I will say one of the things we've been working on collectively is, not the Richmond jail but jails and prisons overall, we have some challenges in jails and prisons overall. So, we're going to continue that work and put the pressure on those responsible for those facilities."