Press Club

The family of a man who died in Arlington County jail in 2020 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit blaming his death on willfully negligent care by the county and nurses.

Darryl Becton, 46, died in the Arlington County Detention Facility on Oct. 1, 2020. A state coroner determined he died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease, which is caused by sustained high blood pressure, complicated by opiate withdrawal.

The $10-million lawsuit filed in Arlington County Circuit Court names Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur, the elected official who oversees the jail and the Sheriff’s Office, and Corizon Correctional Health, the jail-based medical provider at the time, as defendants. Four medical staff, including one who was arrested in connection to Becton’s death, and a sheriff’s deputy are also named.

The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment. Corizon did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Becton, a D.C. resident, was booked on Sept. 29, 2020, on an alleged probation violation following his conviction on a felony “unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” charge in 2019.

The lawsuit says his death two days later — after succumbing to symptoms of heroin and fentanyl withdrawal and untreated high blood pressure — “was wholly avoidable.”

The lawsuit claims Becton told staff when he was booked that he had an opiate addiction and high blood pressure. These became obvious, the suit says, in the early hours of Oct. 1, when his blood pressure registered 191/102 — which would require immediate medical attention — and he began experiencing withdrawal symptoms, including vomiting, nausea, body aches, tremors and diarrhea.

The lawsuit alleges that, despite his obvious illness, medical staff did not properly address his withdrawal symptoms nor treat him for high blood pressure, while deputies assigned to periodically check in on him did not take note of his worsening symptoms.

“From 6 a.m. until 4:16 p.m., he was essentially left uncared for, untreated and alone,” said Mark Krudys, the attorney for the family during a noon press conference outside the jail today (Friday). “He was being casually monitored by the nursing and outright ignored by correctional staff. This did not have to occur. People don’t die from these conditions if they’re taken to medical [facilities] and receive the medical care they need.”

This is not the first time Corizon has been sued for inmate deaths allegedly connected to inadequate care. And Becton’s death, combined with the arrest of one nurse possibly connected to Corizon, prompted the county to cut ties with the provider and select a new provider, Mediko.

The lawsuit also alleges Becton was denied his civil rights in not receiving adequate medical care.

Many family members were present gave emotional tributes to Becton at the press conference.

His cousin, Janae Pugh, said it is every family’s “worst nightmare” to hear that a family member has died in the custody of people who are supposed to “protect and serve” the community.

“To stand here before you and expose my family’s suffering and pain is heartbreaking but very necessary,” she said. “The people in charge need to be held accountable for these preventable deaths. We are here today to seek justice and bring awareness to Darryl’s case.”

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County Board member Matt de Ferranti on Saturday, Feb. 12 (via Arlington County)

Arlington County Board member Matt de Ferranti says he has lots of questions for the county’s criminal justice system after an inmate died in the county jail two weeks ago.

On Saturday, he released a statement committing to figuring out why Paul Thompson, a homeless man arrested for trespassing at a place from which he was previous banned, died in the Arlington County Detention Center earlier this month. He also committed to avoiding preventable deaths at the jail.

“Typically, a number of state agencies — the Magistrate, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, and the Public Defender’s office and our Judges — along with the Arlington County Police Department and the Department of Human Services all have a role in cases like Mr. Thompson’s,” he said. “In my oversight role as a Board Member, I share in the responsibility to make sure we are doing everything we can.”

On Feb. 1, Thompson became the seventh man in seven years to die in the custody of the Sheriff’s Office. Six of the seven have been Black.

The Arlington branch of the NAACP has been sounding the alarm on in-custody deaths in part because of their disproportionate impact on men of color since the 2020 death of Darryl Becton.

“We are failing men of color [and] we are failing people who are homeless in this community,” said Juliet Hiznay, an education and disability rights attorney and a member of the NAACP, during the County Board meeting on Saturday.

Last fall, the ongoing investigation into Becton’s death led to charges filed against a man police say falsified a patient record. It also prompted the Sheriff’s Office to change its jail-based medical provider, which was finalized within 24 hours of Thompson’s death.

And now, the death of Thompson — who did not have a criminal history but did suffer from a mental illness, Sheriff Beth Arthur told WTOP — is prompting greater scrutiny from the Arlington County Board.

“There will be follow-up in the coming weeks through the County Manager, and I personally will be following up in the short term,” de Ferranti tells ARLnow. “We do have to focus on solutions, and that’s why, I’ll be engaging with staff and subject-matter experts on this.”

Thompson’s death is being investigated by Arlington police and an autopsy is still pending, the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said today (Monday).

De Ferranti said he looks forward to answers to the following questions.
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(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.

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Arlington County jail

(Updated at 12:25 a.m.) A 41-year-old man arrested for trespassing is dead after going into cardiac arrest at the Arlington County jail this afternoon.

Paramedics responded to the jail shortly after 3 p.m. for a report of CPR in progress in the jail’s medical unit. In a joint police department and sheriff’s office press release tonight, authorities said the man, Paul Thompson, was found unresponsive in his cell and was rushed to Virginia Hospital Center after resuscitation efforts by medics, but he was later pronounced dead.

Court records suggest that Thompson was arrested for trespassing at a location he was banned from earlier. He was charged with a misdemeanor and assigned a public defender. His next court hearing was scheduled for Feb. 8.

Police will investigate the fatal incident while the medical examiner’s office determines a cause of death.

The jail, which is run by the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, changed its medical services provider this past fall after a series of six inmate deaths in six years. One death resulted in charges against a man who appears to have worked for the jail’s now-former medical provider.

Of the now seven people who have died in the jail over the past seven year, six — including Thompson — were Black.

“This is unacceptable, unconscionable, and distressing,” the Arlington branch of the NAACP said in October, following the death of a 58-year-old inmate. The organization issued another statement Wednesday night, calling for a federal investigation.

The news of yet another inmate of color dying in the Arlington County Detention Center is met by the NAACP Arlington Branch with great sorrow and revulsion. Mr. Thompson, like Mr. Spencer last year, was “found” unresponsive and died while in Sheriff Arthur’s custody on February 1, 2022. He is now the seventh person of color to die in custody in Arlington in as many years. Unfortunately, the Sheriff for Arlington County still has not disclosed the failures that led to the last two Black men who died after being “found” unresponsive, nor has she disclosed reforms, if any, made to guarantee the health, welfare, and safety of those she and her command team are charged with protecting.

Nevertheless, even if anything was changed, Black men are still dying in custody, so any changes are inadequate. While few details are known right now, we know this is the THIRD death in two years and the SEVENTH death in seven years. We have only cryptic information that inmates are “found” unresponsive. But we do know that neither medical conditions nor withdrawal should not be death sentences while individuals are incarcerated by Arlington County Police Department for minor crimes.

We also know that ACPD should not be investigating given the poor and incomplete track record of their investigation into Mr. Becton’s death (2020) and co investigation into Mr. Spencer’s death (2021) and given their close ties with the ACDF.

Moreover, Mr. Thompson was awaiting a hearing on a trespassing charge when he died in a jail cell in which he had been confined for over two weeks. Mr. Spencer died for the crime of being homeless and Black. Mr. Becton for a probation violation that should not have landed him in jail. The other men who died in custody we’re held on similar minor charges.

The pattern was evident then, and it continues to repeat, without anything more from the County than “expression of condolences.” Condolences ring hollow. The NAACP’s national motto, We Are Done Dying, sadly applies but will our elected officials and the government listen this time?

We call on the U.S. Department of Justice to open investigations immediately into the now seven deaths of people of color in the Arlington County Detention Facility and for an investigation into the arrest and incarceration patterns in Arlington County as well.

The full Arlington County press release about the death investigation is below.

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Morning Notes

Fire Station 8 Now in Temporary Home — “On December 6th, 2021, The Arlington County Fire Department relocated Fire Station 8 into their new temporary quarters ahead of the construction of a new station. The temporary Fire Station 8 is located at 2217 N. Culpepper St, just behind the location of where the old Fire Station 8 stood for decades. In the coming months, the old Fire Station 8 will be demolished and work will be started on constructing a new Fire Station 8 in the same location that the previous fire house once stood.” [Arlington County]

APS Not Seeking Vax Status for Most Students — “With one major exception – student-athletes – Arlington Public Schools is not, and likely will not be, keeping tabs on the COVID-vaccination status of students. ‘We don’t know the names’ of those who have been vaccinated, Superintendent Francisco Durán told School Board members on Dec. 2. ‘The school will only be asking [parents] if your child is vaccinated if they are in close contact’ with students who test positive for the virus.” [Sun Gazette]

Still No Witnesses to Critical Crash — “At approximately 8:25 p.m., police were dispatched to a crash with injuries involving a pedestrian at S. Four Mile Run Drive and S. George Mason Drive. Upon arrival, officers located the unconscious pedestrian, an adult male, in the roadway. He was transported to an area hospital and remains hospitalized in critical condition. The striking vehicle fled the scene and there is no description of the vehicle or driver. Detectives have not located any witnesses to the crash. Anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact Detective D. Gilmore at [email protected] or 703-228-4049.” [APCD]

Another Airport Noise Meeting Scheduled — “Arlington County, along with Montgomery County, Maryland will hold its third community meeting on the joint Airport Noise Mitigation Study for communities north of Reagan National Airport (DCA) on Monday, Dec. 13, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The meeting will include a status update on the overall study, present draft recommendations for departure procedures, and take questions and comments from community members.” [Arlington County]

Sheriff’s Office Food Drive Deemed a Success — “On Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, Sheriff Beth Arthur presented donations to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) CEO Charles Meng. The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office collected 3,731 food items. ‘The Sheriff’s Office is part of the community and I believe it is important for us to support those in need during the holidays. I appreciate staff’s enthusiastic support of these efforts,’ says Sheriff Arthur.” [Arlington County]

It’s Friday — It will be mostly cloudy throughout the day today, with a high of 53 and low of 38. Sunrise at 7:16 a.m. and sunset at 4:46 p.m. Saturday will be warm, with a high of 68 and a low of 52, but rain is likely. Sunday will be clear most of the day, with a high of 59 and a low of 39. [Dark Sky]

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Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti speaks during the Board’s Tuesday meeting on how to allocate federal funding (via Arlington County)

Pandemic recovery, childcare and criminal justice reform will be receiving millions in federal and county funds.

This week, the Arlington County Board voted to put federal COVID-19 relief funding and unspent county budget dollars toward these areas and other equity initiatives. Members also signaled the county’s commitment to these priorities by adopting them in their state legislative priority package.

On Tuesday, the Board allocated $29.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for pandemic response and local assistance programs.

It also put more than $6 million in surplus from the 2020-21 budget, or “closeout” funds, toward retention bonuses and compensation of county employees, support for restorative justice initiatives, review of body worn footage cameras and a new position in the Sheriff’s Office.

“Our American Rescue Plan and closeout funding allocations focus on our continued responsibility to keep our community healthy and safe, providing funding for testing, vaccine support and COVID response,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “We also are investing in mental health care through the Crisis Intervention Center and childcare, a critical issue that the pandemic has revealed as more pressing than ever, as well as transportation and our employees.”

Since the plans were introduced in October, the county added some line items to the ARPA and “closeout” spending plans. Two of particular note include money to establish a childcare capital fund and to hire a quality assurance employee for the Arlington County jail.

The Board left $2.4 million ARPA funds unallocated to meet any unforeseen needs determined in 2022, as well as $14.1 million in unallocated close-out funds to address financial pressures in upcoming 2022-2023 budget.

Direct pandemic response — such as testing site and vaccine clinic support — received $9 million while local programs, ranging from housing assistance to the expansion of the Crisis Intervention Center for behavioral health services, received $20.5 million.

New to the ARPA spending plan is $5 million to develop affordable childcare options, spearheaded by childcare champion and Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol.

“ARPA federal guidelines highlight some of the uses for it: they include investment in new or expanded learning services, support for pandemic-impacted small businesses and support to disproportionately impacted populations and communities. One thing at the center of those three circles of the Venn diagram is childcare,” she said during the Board meeting on Tuesday. “This has emerged as one of the top needs during the pandemic.”

Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol speaks about childcare during the Tuesday meeting (via Arlington County)

Arlington has increased the number of available childcare slots, but they are not affordable to those making 50% or less of the Area Median Income, she said.

The county would put the $5 million toward a new childcare capital fund to be accessed by providers and developers who agree to set aside some affordable spots on an ongoing basis in exchange for a one-time infusion of dollars.

The result would be permanently discounted childcare spots created at the time a provider signs a long-term lease or a developer receives approval to build a childcare center, she said.

Before Tuesday night, the Board had previously allocated $2 million in ARPA funds for small business support and $3.8 million for restoring libraries, community centers and other important community facing programs.

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Arlington County is negotiating a contract with a new medical care provider for the county jail — its most recent move in the wake of a series of inmate deaths.

The decision, announced yesterday (Monday), comes the same month that a man, who appears to be connected to the current provider, appeared in Arlington County General District Court on charges related to the police investigation into the in-custody death of Darryl Becton last year.

Also this month, a man named Clyde Spencer became the sixth reported in-custody death in six years.

The effort to find a new medical provider will cut short Arlington’s contract with Corizon Correctional Health, which was renewed last year through 2025. Corizon will continue to provide services until the new provider is slated to take over, on Monday, Nov. 15. Because the negotiations are ongoing, the Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, couldn’t reveal the name of the proposed new provider.

The county says it made the decision “after careful consideration” to ensure the medical safety of inmates.

“The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is committed to providing the highest level of medical services to those in our custody and I take each individuals care very seriously,” Sheriff Beth Arthur said in a statement. “How we care for those remanded to our custody is a priority. We are committed to having a vendor that provides the level of medical service that reflects the high expectations of not only myself, but the Arlington community.”

Corizon was not immediately available to respond to a request for comment.

Corizon has been sued multiple times across the nation for inmate deaths allegedly connected to inadequate care. In Arlington, it appears that local officials are investigating whether the way Becton was cared for in jail played a role in his death. The state medical examiner’s office ruled his cause of death to be hypertensive cardiovascular disease — caused by sustained high blood pressure — complicated by opiate withdrawal.

Nearly one year after Becton’s death, the Commonwealth’s Attorney issued an arrest warrant for a man who was charged with falsifying a patient record, a misdemeanor.

Although the office couldn’t add further details about the man at the time, a D.C. resident by the same name lists his occupation as a licensed practical nurse and his employer as Corizon Health, according to a LinkedIn profile.

And if the man who was charged is indeed employed by Corizon, his case is the second in which a Corizon correctional nurse has been charged with a crime involving an inmate in Arlington.

Another nurse was charged in 2014 with misdemeanor sexual battery and found guilty in Arlington General District Court. In an appeal to the Circuit Court, the inmate and the nurse reached a deal that allowed the nurse to avoid a jail time, according to Maj. Susie Doyel, the then-spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.

The Arlington branch of the NAACP, which called for an independent investigation into Becton’s death last year, issued a statement after the news of the new medical provider was released.

“Although the Sheriff’s Office is seeking a new medical contractor, the issue remains that there have been six in-custody deaths in six years, as reported by the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office,” President Julius “J.D.” Spain, Sr. said. “The Arlington Branch NAACP’s position remains firm in seeking justice for those who have died while in the custody of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office.”

“Ultimately, the Arlington County Sheriff, the Command Staff, and Sheriff’s Office personnel are responsible for the health, care, and safety of the individuals in their custody,” Spain’s statement continued. “The Arlington Branch NAACP will continue to seek justice to find all who are responsible, complicit, and or negligent in the deaths of those in-custody and hold them accountable.”

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One year after an inmate died in the Arlington County jail, a man has been charged in connection with his death.

For the last year, the Arlington County Police Department has been investigating the death of Darryl Becton, 46, while in custody of the county jail on Oct. 1, 2020. One year later to the day, a man named Antoine Smith appeared in Arlington County General District Court on charges related to the investigation, according to a press release from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Smith was charged with the misdemeanor of falsifying a patient record, according to the release. Police obtained a warrant for his arrest on Sept. 24.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney did not return requests for more information about who Smith is, who he works for and what records he falsified.

“The Commonwealth may not discuss the details of an ongoing investigation and Professional Rule of Responsibility 3.6 prohibits public commentary regarding the details of a pending case,” the release said. “A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and a charge is not evidence.”

What we do know is that Arlington County’s jail contracts with correctional healthcare provider Corizon Health to provide medical care to inmates. Last year, the contract was extended to 2025.

A D.C. area man who goes by the name Antoine Smith lists his occupation as a licensed practical nurse and his employer as Corizon Health, according to a LinkedIn profile.

Corizon has been sued multiple times across the nation for inmate deaths allegedly connected to inadequate care.

Assuming Smith is indeed employed by Corizon, this is not the first time a correctional nurse from Corizon has been charged with a crime involving an inmate in Arlington.

In 2014, another nurse from Corizon was charged with misdemeanor sexual battery and found guilty in Arlington General District Court, in an incident that was not previously reported publicly. He appealed to the Circuit Court and a deal was reached between the inmate and the nurse that allowed him avoid a jail time, according to Maj. Susie Doyel, the then-spokeswoman for the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail.

The news of the latest charges marks a step forward in the case, which police told ARLnow in August could soon be concluded.

Last fall, Becton, who is Black, was being held on an alleged probation violation after being convicted in 2019 of a felony, “unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.” On Oct. 1, 2020, a sheriff’s deputy and an Arlington Department of Human Services caseworker found Becton unresponsive in his cell. Despite resuscitation efforts, Becton was pronounced dead 30 minutes later.

Within a week, the Arlington branch of the NAACP wrote to the sheriff’s office and the police department requesting an independent investigation. The same month, Sheriff Beth Arthur and then-Acting Chief of Police Andy Penn wrote a joint response.

“The death of Mr. Becton is tragic and we can assure you that a thorough and comprehensive criminal investigation into this matter will be conducted by the ACPD, followed by a comprehensive administrative investigation by ASCO to determine if all applicable policies and procedures were followed surrounding Mr. Becton’s incarceration,” Arthur and Penn wrote.

Between then and August, little information had surfaced in Becton’s case. ARLnow learned from the medical examiner’s office that his cause of death was ruled to be hypertensive cardiovascular disease — caused by sustained high blood pressure — complicated by opiate withdrawal, and the manner of his death was ruled to be natural.

This case has been a top priority for the NAACP, as Becton was the fifth person — and the fourth Black man — to die in the facility between 2015 and 2020, per the Sheriff’s and Police Chief’s letter.

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A man died Tuesday after being found unresponsive in the medical unit of the Arlington County jail, prompting a regional law enforcement investigation and statements from local leaders.

Clyde Spencer, 58, was rushed to Virginia Hospital Center, where he later died. He is the sixth inmate at the jail to die over the past six years.

The last reported inmate death, in October 2020, remains under investigation. A regional body called the Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team is now investigating Spencer’s death.

Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti, Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and Sheriff Beth Arthur — whose office runs the jail — all issued expressions of sympathy for Spencer’s family and support for the CIRT investigation in statements released Friday morning.

From a county press release:

Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti, along with the Sheriff and Commonwealth Attorney, issued the following statements today regarding the death investigation at the Arlington County Detention Facility earlier this week.

“Mr. Clyde Spencer passed away Tuesday at the Virginia Hospital Center after he was taken there when he was found unresponsive at the Arlington County Detention Facility. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Mr. Spencer’s family and friends in this time of loss,” said de Ferranti. “We support the decision to call for an independent investigation from the Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), a regional team that investigates deaths or serious injuries involving law enforcement officers in participating jurisdictions in Northern Virginia.”

“We offer our condolences to the Spencer family,” said Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur. “Incidents like these are taken very seriously by my office, and me personally. We will fully cooperate with the investigation.”

“My heart goes out to the families suffering from the loss of their loved ones,” said Commonwealth Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. “We are diligently working with the CIRT and the ACPD on these cases and hope the community and the families involved understand that we cannot reveal the content of the investigations, and the Virginia rule of professional conduct 3.6 prohibits me from commenting on a pending case.”

At the completion of a comprehensive, thorough, and impartial investigation, the CIRT will present the facts and evidence to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.

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(Update at 5:20 p.m.) A man being held at the Arlington County jail has died after being found unconscious yesterday morning.

Clyde Spencer, 58, was in the jail’s medical unit when he was found unresponsive around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to a police department press release. He was rushed to Virginia Hospital Center following resuscitation efforts, but died last night. An exact cause of death was not given.

The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the lockup at 1435 N. Courthouse Road, said yesterday afternoon that the man was “in stable condition.” Today’s police department press release says Spencer’s condition “did not improve, and he was pronounced deceased at 5:58 p.m.”

The in-custody death will now be investigated by the recently-established Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team, according to the police department, which described the case as “an active criminal investigation.”

Spencer was jailed for trespassing, the press release noted.

The Arlington branch of the NAACP said in a statement today that this was the sixth death of an inmate in the past six years.

“This is unacceptable, unconscionable, and distressing,” the NAACP said. The full statement is below.

Over a year ago, on October 1, 2020, Daryl Becton died in the custody of the Arlington County Sheriff. In August of 2021, eleven months later, the ACPD said they were putting the final touches on their investigation and would have it to the Commonwealth Attorney “very soon.” Unfortunately, as of October 6, 2021, we have not received any updates that ACPD has sent their investigation to the Commonwealth Attorney over a year later. So now another Black man has died in the custody of the Sheriff at the Arlington County Detention Facility. While we don’t know the details yet and are getting contradictory information from official and unofficial sources, this is the SIXTH death of an Arlington County inmate in 6 years. 

Delayed answers for Mr. Becton’s family and now another death. This is unacceptable, unconscionable, and distressing to anyone following the deaths of inmates and our criminal justice system in Arlington, Virginia. We need closure to the investigation surrounding Mr. Becton’s untimely death, and ACPD must recuse itself from investigating this new death. Our community deserves an investigation by an impartial party to get to the bottom of death number 6, another person of color, and a fellow human being. 

The last publicly-reported inmate death was that of 46-year-old Darryl Becton in October 2020, the investigation into which remains in progress. Of the four others who died, three were also Black and one was white, according to a joint letter from Arlington Sheriff Beth Arthur and Police Chief Andy Penn to the NAACP, shared with ARLnow.

Two of the men were found to have died of “natural causes” and one died of a drug overdose, the letter said. Jitesh Patel, the deceased inmate described as white, was a murder suspect who committed suicide in his cell with a jail-issued razor, the letter said.

The Critical Incident Response Team, established earlier this year “to investigate critical incidents involving law enforcement officers within the cooperating jurisdictions,” is investigating the latest inmate death at the request of Chief Penn, according to the ACPD press release.

The full press release is below.

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(Updated 11:40 a.m.) Last October, 46-year-old D.C. resident Darryl Becton died in his cell at the Arlington County Detention Facility in Courthouse.

The county is still looking into the circumstances around his death, but the Arlington County Police Department tells ARLnow the investigation could soon be concluded.

“Detectives are reviewing last items and anticipate concluding the investigation in the near future,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said. “While we appreciate the need for closure and transparency, ACPD has a duty to conduct a professional, methodical, and thorough investigation to ensure all relevant facts are gathered, documented, and considered.”

ACPD will then forward the entire investigative file to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for independent review. Meantime, the Sheriff’s Office will investigate whether applicable policies and procedures were being followed in this incident.

Meanwhile, the Arlington branch of the NAACP — which called for an independent investigation of the death of Becton, an African American man — is wondering why the investigation is taking so long.

“The Arlington NAACP’s most crucial question is who is not cooperating with whom because nothing else makes sense,” branch president Julius “J.D.” Spain, Sr. said. “It’s been ten plus months, and all the family and community get is the hot potato treatment.”

By that, he says, when the NAACP talks to County Board members, they point to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, who says to talk with the Arlington County Police Department, who says talk to the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office.

“With the exception of one letter dated October 26, 2020, the Sheriff has been silent,” he said. “Her silence is the only part of this that makes any sense because Mr. Becton somehow died in a locked cell in the jail she runs. Their collective treatment of the family is highly disrespectful and compounds their grief and the concerns of citizens.”

What we know of the case

Last fall, Becton was being held on an alleged probation violation after being convicted in 2019 of a felony, “unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.”

On Oct. 1, 2020, at 4:15 p.m., a sheriff’s deputy and a Department of Human Services caseworker had found Becton unresponsive in his cell. ACPD officers were dispatched at 4:19 p.m. to investigate. Despite resuscitation efforts, Becton was pronounced dead 30 minutes later.

Within a week, the NAACP wrote to the sheriff’s office and the police department requesting an independent investigation. The same month, Sheriff Beth Arthur and then-Acting Chief of Police Andy Penn wrote a joint response.

“The death of Mr. Becton is tragic and we can assure you that a thorough and comprehensive criminal investigation into this matter will be conducted by the ACPD, followed by a comprehensive administrative investigation by ASCO to determine if all applicable policies and procedures were followed surrounding Mr. Becton’s incarceration,” Arthur and Penn wrote.

Amid the investigation, the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy, which was completed after a death certificate was issued to Becton’s family. On that document, the autopsy was listed as “pending” and no cause of death was listed.

“Mr. Becton’s loved ones deserve to know what the medical examiner determined was his cause of death, and they still can’t even get that simple answer,” Spain said.

The medical examiner’s office told ARLnow on Wednesday that the cause was hypertensive cardiovascular disease — which is caused by sustained high blood pressure — complicated by opiate withdrawal. The manner of his death was ruled to be natural.

Ten months of waiting

Meanwhile, frustrated with the investigation’s pace, the NAACP reached out to Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti last week to see if she had made any progress on her independent review. In response, she affirmed that her office owe’s Becton’s family and the community “an accurate and transparent account of our work,” but pointed to the process laid out by ACPD and ACSO.

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