Press Club

Arlington finalizes contract with new medical provider for jail shortly after latest in-custody death

(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) Arlington has officially signed a contract with a new medical provider assigned to the county jail.

The contract was finalized Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after an inmate, Paul Thompson, died yesterday, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office tells ARLnow.

Thompson, 41, was found unresponsive yesterday afternoon in the Arlington County Detention Facility and rushed to Virginia Hospital Center after resuscitation efforts by medics, but he was later pronounced dead.

Mediko had been operating on an emergency order since Nov. 16, after the county dropped its previous correctional health care provider following a series of six inmate deaths in six years. The 2020 death of another inmate, Darryl Becton, resulted in charges against a man who appears to have worked for the jail’s now-former medical provider.

Thompson’s death brings the total number of inmates who died while at the county jail, which is run by the Sheriff’s Office, to seven in seven years. Six of the seven people who have died, including Thompson, were Black.

ACSO spokeswoman Maj. Tara Johnson says inmate deaths “absolutely” are rising, but she hasn’t found any clear trends driving the increase.

“Prior to five, six years ago… it wasn’t something we were looking at annually,” she said. “Now, we definitely have been seeing an uptick.”

The deaths happen for a variety of reasons, she says, including a lack of medical care outside of the jail for issues such as heart disease or diabetes or withdrawal from drugs. Thompson was in the jail’s medical unit when he was found unresponsive, having returned to the jail from the hospital about 10 days ago for treatment of a medical problem Johnson declined to disclose.

Heart conditions have been the listed causes for the two most recent inmate deaths.

Clyde Spencer, the 58-year-old man who died in 2021, died of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, caused when plaque builds up in the arteries, and his manner of death was ruled to be natural, the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Wednesday.

ARLnow previously learned Becton died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease, caused by sustained high blood pressure, complicated by opiate withdrawal. His manner of death was likewise determined to be natural.

To prevent drug-related deaths, she said the Sheriff’s Office has a body scanner that examines inmates when they’re booked, as well as drug testing for when they leave and return to the jail on court-ordered furloughs.

“Our policy is pretty strong, but it requires a lot of training and a lot of review of policies… and adding extra safeguards to make sure they’re safe,” she said.

These include random checks at 15- to 30-minute intervals for inmates with mental health concerns, though not all inmates are under constant observation, she said.

The Sheriff’s Office will conduct an internal review into whether the correct policies and procedures were followed in the events leading up to Thompson’s death, Johnson said. Similar administrative reviews are still ongoing for the deaths of Becton and Spencer.

The results will be sent to the Virginia Department of Corrections for an independent review.

The Arlington County Police Department, meanwhile, will conduct a criminal investigation.

“Historically, we have had ACPD do their criminal investigation first and then we do ours,” Johnson said. “We decided — since the criminal investigation into Mr. Becton’s death took so long — to start doing them parallel to ACPD’s investigations.”

ACPD is currently overseeing the investigation into Becton’s death, which most recently took a turn when a man was charged with the misdemeanor of falsifying a patient record.

That investigation remains open as the case proceeds through General District Court, says ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage.

The investigation into Spencer’s death remains an active investigation by the Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team, says Savage. This regional team investigates death or injuries involving law enforcement, including officer suicides and officer-involved shootings.

When that’s complete, the entire file will go to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s for independent review, she said.

In a statement, Arlington County government said it fully supports ASCO and ACPD during the investigation.

“A death of any member of the Arlington County community is a cause for concern,” the county government said. “We are saddened over the passing of Mr. Thompson and share our condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Soon after the news of the death broke, the Arlington Branch of the NAACP called for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Johnson says the Sheriff’s Office would not stand in the way.

“We are open to any independent investigation,” she said. “We want to be as transparent as possible with the public… for the last 24 hours, our entire command staff has been on this issue.”

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