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Inmates at the Arlington County Detention Facility picked up their paddles once again to compete in a pickleball tournament this week — and this time they had some additional friends.

The Pickleball Friends of Arlington joined the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Parks and Recreation to host a sequel to last November’s jail pickleball tournament. The two-day competition started on Tuesday and ended yesterday with players on two winning teams receiving a $10 credit for their commissary accounts.

Sheriff’s office spokesperson Amy Meehan said the addition of the local pickleball group meant more people on deck to give lessons and keep score.

“We were lucky to be able to get volunteers from the ‘Pickleball Friends of Arlington’,” said Meehan. “We are grateful for the community involvement.”

Amid pickleball’s surge of popularity in Arlington and across the country, members of the Pickleball Friends of Arlington said they hope to foster a welcoming and involved community.

Member Heather Luca, who volunteered at the jail tournament, said her group provides feedback and insight on how to improve current courts and create new ones. Members advocate for their fellow players and weigh in on all manner of pickleball-related issues, from broken nets to sound mitigation.

Luca loves how welcoming the sport is, and not just at events like this week’s tournament. She said pickleball’s “drop-in culture” has opened the door to many new relationships.

“I have lots of other friends but these new friends of mine who I met through pickleball, who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, have showed up for me,” said Luca. “Anytime I’m feeling down, it’s like ‘Go out and play pickleball,’ and it just brings so much joy to me.”

Jimmy Brown, who founded the local group, likewise finds joy in meeting new people and activating his competitive drive.

“I love the people I play with but when I step on that court, I’m trying to beat them,” he said.

Coming from a background in high school sports and being the son of a former NFL player, Brown has always loved competing. He said that he discovered pickleball while on vacation a few years ago and was so fascinated with the fast-paced sport that he bought a paddle and went to Walter Reed Community Center to compete.

“I got my butt whooped, which was awesome,” said Brown.

Brown said defeats pushed him to engage in the game even more. Years later Brown and a few of his friends decided to start the Arlington Iron Paddles (AIP), a competitive pickleball group, in 2023 for other players who want to improve.

“It’s that camaraderie of being on a team and all pushing each other,” said Brown.

AIP trains players to compete at any level through clinics and tournaments. Browns hopes more people continue to get involved in the growing Arlington pickleball scene.

“We want to take the love of the game that we have and expand it to the whole community,” he said.

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Jail entrance at the Arlington County Detention Facility (file photo)

The county jail is partnering with a reproductive nonprofit to provide pregnant inmates with maternal support and training.

The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office announced a partnership with the Richmond-based organization, Birth in Color, to provide pregnant people in custody with birthing support while training other inmates to become community-based birthing coaches or doulas.

Sheriff Jose Quiroz said he hopes implementing this program will improve conditions for inmates who can use such support.

“The doula support and training provided by Birth in Color will not only benefit the individuals directly involved but will also contribute to the overall well-being of our detention facility,” said Quiroz in a press release. “We recognize the importance of ensuring that female individuals in our custody have access to resources that promote positive birth experiences and empower them during this significant life event.”

The founding Executive Director of Birth in Color, Kendra Sutton El, said the program will create a healthier environment for those who are pregnant while providing inmates with experience-based skills.

“We not only provide them with valuable skills but also contribute to creating a more supportive and holistic environment within the correctional facility,” said Sutton El.

The “empowering” experience can be shared by both the mother in labor and trained inmates when they address and understand the cultural and racial differences in the child birthing process, the press release notes. Participants will get “an understanding of different practices, beliefs and traditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.”

The partnership follows a series of complaints and reports from former and current inmates, the Arlington Human Rights Commission and the NAACP about the well-being of those in custody. The facility has been under scrutiny for a series of inmate deaths over the past several years.

More on the partnership, below, from a press release.

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Inside the Arlington County Detention Facility (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Arlington County Board and the Human Rights Commission are at odds over whether commissioners had the right to request an investigation into possible human and civil rights violations at the county jail.

Earlier this month, the commission sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, voicing concerns over reports that inmates at the jail lack adequate healthcare, a situation they argue could put them “at risk of death and severe harm.” This follows up on letters to the County Sheriff’s Office and the DOJ from the Arlington branch of the NAACP and its national organization, asking for an investigation after hearing from former and current inmates.

In response, County Board Chair Libby Garvey told the DOJ in a letter last week that the commission’s request “does not represent the position or opinion” of the Board, though she did not elaborate on the Board’s position on either the commission sending the letter or the conditions within the jail.

For County Board member Matt De Ferranti, there are at least grounds for procedural concerns. Before the commission approved the letter, he told them via email that state law requires County Board approval before “seeking assistance with the prevention or relief from discriminatory practices from external enforcement authorities.”

The commission argues it was not requesting the enforcement of a specific violation; rather, it wants the agency to look at the general policies and practices of the jail, Arlington Human Rights Commission Chair Bill Rice told ARLnow.

“We’ve been hearing reports of widespread discrimination in this area and asking for like an investigation into that, but that second part doesn’t necessarily result in like some type of enforcement action — it usually results in some type of report,” Rice said.

The Board’s response, meanwhile, has left Rice and other commissioners confused about where the Board officially stands, as no members have openly objected to the substance of the letter.

“The County Board knows about it already, or it should know about it already,” Rice said. “It’s been in the news, people have raised it with the County Board members before, and the NAACP has raised the issue with numerous people before. Sending the letter to the County Board would just be telling them something they already were aware of.”

Last month, ARLnow reported the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is under pressure from personnel, inmates and the NAACP to improve conditions at the county jail amid claims of inadequate healthcare and chronic staffing shortages leading to excessive confinement and mismanagement.

Deputies have highlighted the safety risks associated with staffing shortages, and several former inmates, including John Parker and Moika Nduku, have since come forward to support these claims.

“I was there for 20 months… We came out a handful of times, literally seven or eight times, that we came out for food, to perhaps talk to our lawyers, over months and months at a time,” Nduku said during a special Human Rights Commission meeting held last month. “We’ve experienced something that’s way past inhumane, denying our basic rights.”

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The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is facing mounting pressure from personnel, inmates and the NAACP to address worsening conditions at the county jail.

Current and former deputies, along with a former inmate, claim that chronic staffing shortages inside the jail have led to inmates being confined to their cells for up to 21 hours daily, deputies not following proper protocols, the mismanagement of medication dosages and inmates not being allowed to take showers.

A jail-based staff-led anonymous survey obtained by ARLnow chalks up the retention challenges to issues with leadership, salary, and work conditions, particularly mandatory overtime.

Sources caution that without intervention, the ongoing staff shortages at the jail pose a significant safety risk to deputies and inmates.

Nine deaths in eight years

On Oct. 2, 2020, Arlington County Jail inmate Darryl Becton, 46, was found unconscious in his cell at 4:17 p.m.

Twenty-eight minutes later, medics pronounced him dead at the scene. His death, later attributed to hypertensive cardiovascular disease, complicated by opiate withdrawal, generated significant county and community attention.

In the wake of Becton’s death, his family filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against former Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur, Corizon Correctional Health — the jail’s now-former medical provider — and four medical staff members, citing negligence in properly monitoring his high blood pressure and withdrawal symptoms.

A Corizon nurse was charged in connection with Becton’s death but was later found not guilty.

In response, the jail hired a new medical provider, updated its safety protocols and announced it would equip some inmates with biometric wrist monitors tracking their vital signs. Current Sheriff Jose Quiroz piloted these wrist monitors this fall, distributing them to inmates in the jail’s medical unit.

“We’re going to pilot it with the folks in our infirmary who are, in my eyes, the most critical, the most vulnerable, whether it’s pre-existing medical conditions or anyone going through withdrawals or detox,” Quiroz told ARLnow during an interview in September 2023. “And so, I’m definitely committed to that.”

Like Becton, Jermaine Culbreath, a former Arlington County Detention Facility inmate, also suffers from high blood pressure. Although prescribed blood pressure medication during his incarceration, he told ARLnow he did not receive a wrist monitor.

Culbreath also alleges that on multiple occasions, the jail’s medical staff either failed to deliver his medication promptly in the morning or did not deliver it at all.

“If they did give it to me, they’d give me the medicine in the afternoon,” he told ARLnow. “Like, I’m supposed to take it in the morning because if I try to take this medicine after a certain hour, I can overdose because this is like me taking it twice.”

Over the last eight years, nine inmates — many of whom previously experienced homelessness — have died while in the custody of the Sheriff’s Office. The two most recent incidents this year involved 73-year-old Abonesh Woldegeorges and 55-year-old David Gerhard, both of whom were found unresponsive in their cells.

Gerhard died after going into cardiac arrest, and Woldergeorges died after falling out of her bunk and hitting her head, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Investigations into both cases are currently ongoing.

How staff shortages figure into current conditions

While it’s difficult to say they are directly related, sources, including Culbreath and retired Arlington County sheriff’s deputy Wanda Younger, trace the recent deaths and lapses to staffing shortages within ACSO and the impact they have on jail operations.

“There have been nine deaths in eight years,” Younger told ARLnow. “This is showing signs of the exacerbation that’s happening with the lack of staff, the daily shortages and these daily lockdowns.”

Situated directly opposite the Arlington County Justice Center on N. Courthouse Road, the 11-story jail, on average, houses about 364 inmates who are managed by a team of approximately 270 sworn deputies and civilian staff.

At any given time, the jail is supervised by up to 35 personnel — including 30 deputies, four sergeants, and one lieutenant — who work 12 to 12.5-hour shifts, Maj. Jonathan Burgess told ARLnow during a tour of the detention facility in September 2023.

Theoretically, 35 deputies per shift would be ample, but daily staffing levels are reportedly lower than that, says Younger, referencing conversations with those currently working inside.

“I’ve been told that the Sheriff’s Office is short-staffed almost on a daily basis,” she said.

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Jail entrance at the Arlington County Detention Facility (file photo)

A 55-year-old inmate has died in the Arlington County jail, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

This is the second death the detention facility has logged this year, after 73-year-old Abonesh Woldegeorges, booked on trespassing charges, was found dead in her cell this August.

David Gerhard, of Hedgesville, West Virginia, died today (Tuesday) after he was found unresponsive in his cell within the medical unit at the Arlington County Detention Facility, which the Sheriff’s Office runs.

Sheriff’s deputies and medical staff “began immediate resuscitation efforts until the arrival of Arlington County Fire & Rescue units,” per an ACSO press release.

Police and fire were dispatched to the report of cardiac arrest just before 8 a.m., according to a press release from Arlington County Police Department. First responders found Gerhard was still unresponsive.

“He was transported to Virginia Hospital Center where he was pronounced deceased,” the ACSO release said.

He died around just before 9 a.m., a sheriff’s office spokeswoman told ARLnow.

Gerhard was booked in jail on Nov. 20 for failing to comply with support obligations and contempt of court. Under certain circumstances, the court can order a person to be incarcerated for not complying with a court order concerning the custody, visitation or support of a child.

Gerhard’s family was notified of his passing, the release said.

“We extend our condolences to the family of Mr. Gerhard, during this difficult time,” Sheriff Jose Quiroz said in a statement.

The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine his cause of death. ACPD is investigating the death, following standard procedure, per the police press release.

Anyone with information related to this investigation is asked to contact the Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected]. To report information anonymously, contact the Arlington County Crime Solvers at 1.866.411.TIPS (8477).

Gerhard is the ninth person to die in the Arlington County jail over the past eight years. His death comes despite heightened attention on jail deaths and efforts to update health check protocols at the county lockup.

A number of inmates who have died in the last eight years were homeless or booked on so-called nuisance crimes, such as trespassing.

Gerhard was white, while most inmates who have died in the county jail have been Black. That disparity prompted the Arlington branch of the NAACP to call for a federal investigation into the deaths.

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The hottest new pickleball club is the Arlington County Detention Facility.

Two weeks ago, the jail inaugurated its new pickleball court — installed by Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation — with a three-day tournament.

Two dozen inmates matched up for “thrilling competitive play” after receiving lessons from an inmate services counselor and the parks department, according to Arlington County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Amy Meehan. (In addition to other assorted law enforcement duties in Arlington, the Sheriff’s Office runs the jail.)

The new pickleballers came from three rehabilitative programs in the jail: the Addictions, Corrections and Treatment program, the Community Readiness Unit and the inmate work program.

“Participants learned, practiced and played for three days, reviewing the rules and demonstrations from Parks and Rec, culminating in a pickleball tournament where they had the opportunity to form teams and compete in doubles matches,” Meehan said.

After the tournament ended, Sheriff Jose Quiroz attended the championship match and shared a small presentation, she noted.

Quiroz first floated the idea of a pickleball court while campaigning for Sheriff ahead of the Democratic primary this June, to improve the health of inmates and stave off burnout among sheriff’s deputies.

“Participation was great and each morning when staff arrived, the individuals were already practicing and playing,” Meehan said. “Equipment was provided for individuals who want to continue playing and several not only thanked staff for providing them this opportunity but also were given locations where they will be able to play in Arlington upon release.”

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Jail entrance at the Arlington County Detention Facility (file photo)

A one-woman show ran one of the county programs that diverts people from jail.

Her departure this summer has left a hole in the county’s series of initiatives that keep defendants out of jail, reduce their time in the detention facility or improve their chances of not reoffending once they leave.

Bond Diversion works with criminal defendants who the Arlington Dept. of Human Services (DHS), attorneys and judges determined would fare better waiting for court appearances in stable housing and receiving community-based medical treatment. In many cases, participants had mental illnesses and committed minor misdemeanors.

DHS oversees the program as well as many of the services used by defendants who go through the program. The department is recruiting for a replacement but is up against a regional shortage of licensed behavioral health specialists, says DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick.

“[Bond Diversion] is basically on hold, though both the Forensic Diversion team and jail-based team are identifying opportunities to divert people and doing so when possible,” says Larrick, noting the position, which pays between $92,000 and $140,000, has been offered to two people who have declined.

Meanwhile, more people with mental illnesses are being booked in the Arlington County Detention Facility even as Arlington County is trying to disentangle law enforcement from mental health issues. Since 2020’s widespread calls for police reforms, the county has taken some steps to create community-based services that do not involve the criminal-legal system.

Arlington’s top prosecutor and chief public defender esteemed the last Bond Diversion coordinator for providing high-quality re-entry planning. They said these plans instilled confidence among prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges that defendants released from the jail would show up to court, stick with their treatment plans and not reoffend in the long term.

“[Bond Diversion] allowed us to have creative solutions that allowed us to not criminalize mentally ill people,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. “It allowed us to spend our resources in areas where you really needed to prosecute.”

Without it, the jail — already under scrutiny for the deaths of inmates, some of whom were homeless and booked on trespassing charges — has become home to people with mental illnesses who are held without bond or on bonds they cannot afford to pay. Although the jail has clinicians to help these inmates, this trend worries Dehghani-Tafti.

“We are warehousing mentally ill people in our jail because we do not have a functioning Bond Diversion program,” she said.

When it worked well, the program was “really cutting-edge diversion,” Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood said.

Now, his office is shouldering a lot of the reentry planning previously overseen by the Bond Diversion coordinator. Two paralegals, who normally review body-camera footage and prepare legal filings, are instead helping the office’s mitigation specialist draft reentry plans.

“Even that’s not enough,” Haywood said. “My office is too taxed to do reentry planning and someone at DHS is better equipped to access services they provide.”

Bond Diversion: One of several jail ‘off-ramps’  

Arlington has several “off-ramps” through which the court-involved can be diverted from the detention facility.

Some off-ramps are put into motion the moment law enforcement could be involved or does get involved. The Crisis Intervention Team, for instance, trains law enforcement in better responses to people with mental illnesses and encourages them to work with DHS to find mental health professionals or other services in lieu of incarceration.

Police who do arrest people bring them to the jail where they go before magistrates who determines — as part of the Magistrate’s Post-Booking Project — if they should stay in jail or be released for behavioral health interventions.

Bond Diversion is the next step.

If someone is held without bond or on a bond they cannot pay, they are arraigned before a district court judge. If applicable, Haywood says, the public defender’s office will be appointed and shortly after, will request that the client be released until their court date. For some clients, his office might request a Bond Diversion plan.

Other times, the referral may come from the prosecutor. Or the judge may be sympathetic to releasing the defendant because the crime was minor, but may feel uncomfortable doing so without a housing and medication plan in place, Haywood said.

Throughout this process, members of the 14-person, jail-based forensic diversion team are screening the mental health of defendants to determine what kind of behavioral health interventions they should get — whether in the jail or upon their release.

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In its first month of operation, Arlington County’s mobile behavioral health response team has been busy responding to calls.

Most of these calls — which range from welfare checks to mental health emergencies and drug overdoses — involve people who are homeless, officials say. It’s a trend they attribute to the recent closures of shelters in D.C.

“There’s been a surge of homelessness in Arlington County because of the closures in D.C.,” says Grace Guerrero, senior clinical psychologist and mental health supervisor, noting many are leaving D.C. for Arlington as well as other parts of Northern Virginia and southern Maryland.

“We’ll see what unfolds,” she added. “But we have seen those upticks.”

During a media event on Thursday, Arlington County’s “Mobile Outreach Support Team” (MOST) showed off its retrofitted van, stocked with non-perishable food, water, a defibrillator, clothes, hygiene items, Narcan and fentanyl test strips.

The vehicle was funded through a 2-year, $390,000 federal grant — secured with help from Rep. Don Beyer — in an effort to divert police involvement from calls involving mental health crises, substance abuse or domestic violence.

The team comprises a licensed clinician, a peer recovery specialist and an outreach worker from the Dept. of Human Services. They will triage a situation on-site and provide peer support and conflict resolution. MOST also works with medical and behavioral health services to ensure people receive the appropriate care.

The MOST team receives about 20-35 calls per week, largely between the van’s operational hours of 1-9 p.m. Once the van arrives, most of the time, people accept the team’s help, which Guerrero noted can prevent situations from escalating and resulting in injuries or death.

Guerrero says she is unsure if MOST has significantly reduced police involvement in mental health crises at this point. That is in part because emergency responders are still, typically, the first to arrive on scene, and will call the MOST team for specialized assistance.

To further reduce police involvement in these calls, she is looking to develop an enhanced “decision tree” to help police assess when their presence may not be necessary.

“I don’t know that we’ve done yet the curbing of [police] going to these [situations] unless we self-deploy… But right now, in these first five weeks, I would say that probably allowed [police] to go back into service sooner, much sooner,” she said.

Reducing law enforcement involvement in mental health crises is a goal advanced by the Police Practices Work Group, which was convened to suggest reforms to the Arlington County Police Department after the death of George Floyd.

ACPD too has noted the increased entanglement of police officers in mental health emergencies and the officer burnout to which it is contributing. Like the police department, the jail also is seeing an influx of inmates with mental health disorders as well as homeless inmates.

This includes Abonesh Woldegeorges, a 73-year-old woman who died in the jail last month. Her death prompted some in and outside local government to renew pressure on the county to address the role of law enforcement in tackling homelessness and mental health emergencies.

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Jail entrance at the Arlington County Detention Facility (file photo)

Of the eight people who have died in the Arlington County jail in eight years, five appear to have been homeless, according to court records. 

Most recently, Abonesh Woldegeorges, a 73-year-old Black woman with no fixed address, died in the detention center on Sunday morning.

She was found at Dulles International Airport four times between 2019 and 2023 and then, this month, at Reagan National Airport, where she was arrested by airport police and sent to Arlington’s jail, the Washington Post reported. Although eventually granted bond, Woldegeorges remained in jail so she could be taken to Loudoun County for a hearing related to her Dulles charges.

Her case is not unique. Her death, however, returns the jail to the spotlight after previous inmate deaths generated a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit and a civil rights investigation by the Dept. of Justice, as well as a slate of changes by the Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the lockup.

Over the past year and a half it changed medical providers, purchased biometric sensors for select inmates and made other protocol changes. All of this occurred amid changing leadership: Beth Arthur retired before the end of her term and appointed as interim sheriff her Chief Deputy, Jose Quiroz.

Quiroz campaigned on improving inmate well-being and, after winning the Democratic primary, is the sole candidate for Sheriff on the November ballot. 

“Clearly, changing to a new medical contractor didn’t change anything,” says Michael Hemminger, president of the Arlington NAACP branch, which requested the federal inquiry he says is ongoing. “What level of care do these human beings deserve? Is it okay to continue outsourcing to a for-profit provider?”  

A holding place for people without homes and with mental disorders

Court records indicate three other deceased inmates, dating back to 2015, had no address listed or their housing situation was fluid, with an address that varied by the year of their offense. A fourth the Washington Post reported was homeless and suffering from alcoholism.

Of this group, Paul Thompson (died 2022), Clyde Spencer (died 2021) and Edward Straughn (died 2015) were in jail on trespassing or public intoxication charges. Anthony Gordon (died 2015) had been convicted of assault and battery of a family member and was sentenced to five years.

The remaining inmates who have died were listed as D.C. or Maryland residents. This includes D.C. resident Darryl Becton, whose family sued Arlington County for wrongful death for $10 million and were awarded $1.3 million about three weeks ago, according to Hemminger. 

That a majority of deceased inmates did not have stable housing comes as no surprise to Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood. He says the vast majority of inmates are indigent and his office has about a dozen clients right now with airport trespassing charges, specifically. 

“People who have homes to go to never have to trespass. People who have money almost never steal. People who are urinating in public — everyone I know would rather have a place to go inside,” he said. 

He added that more than half of jail inmates are also taking mental health medication. Statistics from the 2023 fiscal year indicate that psychotropic drugs were prescribed 1,582 times across 2,764 total commitments at Arlington’s jail. Other signs of elevated mental health issues inside the jail include the 1,102 inmates assigned a mental health alert.  

Jail statistics for the 2023 fiscal year (via Arlington County)

That the jail has a large population of unhoused inmates with mental health disorders is both a funding issue and the result of a disconnect among the people and agencies reporting and arresting people for trespassing, he said.  

“People don’t think about the social conditions that lead to this,” Haywood said. “It’s just a combination of a lot of issues that no one really wants to confront because they’re complicated and require a lot of resources.” 

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Jail entrance at the Arlington County Detention Facility (file photo)

A 73-year-old woman died this morning at the Arlington County jail.

Abonesh Woldegeorges was found unresponsive in her cell around 7 a.m. and, despite resuscitation efforts, later pronounced dead, according to Arlington County police.

Per scanner traffic, she was found bleeding on the floor of the cell, potentially after falling out of bed.

Woldegeorges was in jail after being arrested for trespassing by Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police on Aug. 13. She “was being held at the Arlington County Detention Center awaiting transport to Loudoun County, Virginia for a Failure to Appear charge in relation to a prior Trespassing incident with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office,” ACPD said.

“Ms. Woldegeorges’ family was notified of her passing,” said a police press release. “Our condolences go out to her family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

“The Arlington County Police Department is conducting a death investigation and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine cause and manner of death,” the press release said. “Anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact [email protected]. Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”

Woldegeorges is the eighth person to die in the Arlington County jail over the past eight years. Her death comes despite heightened attention on jail deaths and efforts to update health check protocols at the county lockup.

Prior to today, the last death at the jail happened on Feb. 1, 2022. Including Woldegeorges, all but one of the people to die at the jail over the past eight years have been Black.

Last year the Arlington branch of the NAACP called for a federal investigation into the ongoing series of deaths. In a statement Sunday night, the organization renewed its call for an investigation.

The Arlington Branch of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, responds to the news of a Black woman detained at the Arlington County Detention Center.

We are devastated and saddened to learn that another loss of life has occurred at our county jail and we send our most heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones. In recent years, 8 people have lost their lives at the county detention center. All of them have been people of color. It is well-established that Black people are policed and arrested at significantly higher rates than their peers in Arlington, Virginia.

While Arlington is only 9% Black, the jail population on any given day is over 65% Black. “It’s unimaginable that a 73-year-old woman being held on trespassing charges would ultimately lose her life while in custody. Unfortunately, we have seen a pattern and practice of blatant disregard for basic care at the Arlington county jail and it is leading to deaths at an alarming rate,” said Michael Hemminger, President of the NAACP Arlington Branch.

After the seventh death in seven years, a $10M wrongful death suit was filed in Arlington County and the NAACP Arlington Branch called for a Department of Justice Investigation into the detention center. The Branch has reached out to government officials to discuss this incident and is currently awaiting a response. “Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and other county leaders have, again, failed to properly address the root problem, and another person has tragically lost her life,” said Hemminger. The NAACP will ensure a thorough and proper investigation is completed, and the organization will ensure that any civil rights violations are met with due accountability and justice.

The jail has been under new leadership since January, when long-time Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur stepped down and Chief Deputy Sheriff Jose Quiroz became the interim Sheriff. Quiroz won the Democratic primary for Sheriff in June, after running on a pledge of improving inmate well-being, and will be the sole candidate on the ballot in November.

Arlington Sheriff candidate Jose Quiroz, Jr. greets Arlington County Board member Takis Karantonis at the Walter Reed Community Center on Tuesday (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

After taking the helm for longtime Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur, who retired at the end of 2022, Acting Sheriff Jose Quiroz is one step closer to taking charge permanently.

Quiroz — backed by four of five County Board members and several elected officials — won the Democratic primary Tuesday night. Following his victory, over former sheriff deputy Wanda Younger and Arlington County police corporal James Herring, Quiroz advances to the November general election.

No one has emerged as an outside challenger, according to the Arlington Dept. of Elections website. If elected as expected, Quiroz will be the county’s first Latino sheriff.

As of last night, the acting sheriff had nearly 40% of the vote, or 10,733 ballots. Younger was close behind him, with 1,600 fewer votes (~34%). Herring came in third, picking up nearly 7,200 votes.

Arlington County Sheriff results (via Virginia Dept. of Elections)

Looking forward, the acting sheriff says he will focus on mental health, substance use and programming for jail inmates. Running the local jail is the primary responsibility of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, along with providing court security and some law enforcement and civil process duties beyond the justice complex in Courthouse.

“I think the biggest thing is mental health. We all have that and all go through it, but some people need a little more care, attention, resources and services,” Quiroz told ARLnow. “I think the county has some work to do in that area.”

He stressed that he can only control treatment of inmates, not change the waves of people with mental illnesses and addictions coming to the jail. To that end, he says new biometric sensors — which inmates will wear so issues like withdrawal symptoms can be spotted before more inmates die — are close to go-time.

Meanwhile, he intends to maintain existing programs, including a series that teaches men how to connect with and be fathers to their kids.

“That’s how you break the cycle of the next generation,” he said. “It’s important to me as a father.”

He says he is thinking “outside the box” about support, stepping up pet therapy and possibly adding a pickleball court for staff and inmates.

In their concessions, Herring and Younger both said they campaigned on bringing to light problems in the jail.

“My campaign was about highlighting the issues and showing people the number of solutions we have available to us if we stop relying on the trope of ‘that’s the way it has always been done,’ or ‘it costs too much,'” Herring said. “Other Sheriff’s Offices in Virginia have implemented much of what I was talking about, often with smaller budgets. The problems facing our Sheriff’s Office are not financially driven, but an issue of priority.”

Next week, Herring will once more be patrolling the streets. He said he would run again if the problems he stressed in his campaign remain four years from now.

On social media, Younger said she is “proud to have raised the bar of the Sheriff’s Office with our ideas & solution-sets and to have brought light to the prevalent issues of the Arlington Sheriff’s Office which inhibit [its] growth and greatness.”

She also thanked voters for their confidence in her ability to carry out her platform.

“The Wanda for Sheriff team will continue to advance the rights and voice of the detainees, Sheriff’s Office staff and our Arlington community in the future as community advocates and caretakers, and we are honored to have earned your trust,” she said.

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