Richmond Sheriff's Office charging grieving family $13,000 for information about inmate death

Posted at 6:48 PM, Apr 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-06 18:48:50-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- For months, Carla Wade has been left with mounting questions surrounding the death of her brother, Steven Carey.

“It’s been a big mystery," Wade said. "A lot of phone calls, a lot of, 'We'll get back to you. We're busy.' We have had no contact to us. We've had to continuously call and call and call and call to get answers, which we haven't really gotten many."

Though Wade believed Carey would no longer be a danger to himself and others inside the jail, Carey died while in custody on January 11.

“We believed this was the best thing for him at the time to help him straighten his life out and get away from the bad. We ultimately thought he was safer in there than he was on the streets," she said. “We have no idea what was happening behind those walls.”

Recently, the medical examiner's office confirmed Carey's cause of death as a fentanyl overdose.

“Fentanyl is no joke. It doesn't take but a little pin drop to kill somebody," Wade said. "So how is it getting in?”

To try and uncover more details about the circumstances of Carey's death, the family retained attorneys Noel Brooks and Jesse Baez to seek information.

"These inmates are inmates, but they have a family who love them, and when their loved one dies, they want answers. They want to know how it happened, just like any normal family would want to know," Brooks said. "And when they get stonewalled and are not provided answers, that makes the family suspect wrongdoing."

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the attorneys submitted a request for public records to Richmond Sheriff Antionette Irving's Office, asking for documents that could shed light on how Carey died.

The requested materials include copies of warrants and documents related to the internal investigation of Carey's death, video of the emergency response, radio communications, and deputy shift reports from the day of Carey's death.

“We'd like to know about some internal policies on how they respond to an inmate that is in a medical emergency. We would like to have any medical records that they keep while Steven was incarcerated at the jail," Brooks added.

Many of the materials Brooks believes should already be preserved as part of the sheriff's office's internal investigation. He said many of the records were likely also sent to the Virginia Board of Local and Regional Jails, which is the state entity that investigates jail deaths.

But the Sheriff's Office said it would charge more than $13,000 for the information. In an email, a FOIA officer said five employees would have to spend more than 400 hours to fulfill the request.

“It's ridiculous. I mean, ludicrous. I have never seen a response asking for $13,000 in order to obtain records which from our position are regularly maintained," Brooks said. "We've had plenty of cases where we are given a breakdown of costs. It doesn't come anywhere close to $13,000."

For Wade, she said it seems like another roadblock in her fight to get answers.

"It is exhausting. Part of you just wants to just give up and accept it. The other part wants to hold somebody accountable," Wade said. "If there's nothing to hide, and you haven't done anything wrong, release the information."

Carey is among five Richmond Justice Center inmates who have died in just over a year. The medical examiner confirmed three of those deaths were due to drug overdoses while the other two causes of death are still pending.

Wade said she'd continue advocating for transparency, not just for her brother, but for the families of the other inmates who have died.

“And how many more is it going to be? This is not just for him, it’s for everybody involved and to hopefully stop it from happening again," Wade said.

Sheriff Irving said she believes the $13,000 cost estimate is reasonable based on what's being requested. However, she said she could not go into detail due to the ongoing investigation.

CBS 6 reached out to the board's executive director Ryan McCord for a description of what records are provided to them during the course of an inmate death investigation. We haven't heard back.

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