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In Arlington and across the state, hospital emergency rooms are filling up with people in mental health crises, often handcuffed to gurneys and attended by law enforcement officers.
People in these situations can’t walk around, save to go to the bathroom, and they can’t see their families. They may be calm or exhibiting aggressive behaviors; they might be hearing voices or may not have eaten in days because they believe their food is poisoned.
Whatever the case, they are in the emergency room because local clinicians determined they are a danger to themselves or others or unable to care for themselves, and need to be treated by specialized staff in a hospital.
Magistrates placed them under the civil custody of law enforcement officers, who have to stay with them until ER nurses can conduct a basic physical exam and clear them to go to that hospital’s behavioral health ward, where they will receive additional treatment.
That is how it should work.
But a statewide shortage of adult psychiatric beds means people in crisis — and under either an eight-hour emergency custody orders (ECOs) or 72-hour temporary detention orders (TDOs) — could wait hours under the eye of law enforcement for medical clearance while local social workers call every hospital in the state searching for beds. Once beds are located, police will drive their charges there — sometimes up to five hours away.
The shortage is straining Virginia’s mental health care system, which is held up by dwindling ranks of under-resourced clinicians, nurses and law enforcement working overtime.
“You do wonder, how much is this helping this person as opposed to hurting someone?” said police officer James Herring, who is running for Arlington County Sheriff. “This ‘help’ feels very, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ That’s not what any of us wants, but it’s the way the system has evolved.”
The current crisis is a result of the state’s decision in 2021 to close most state psychiatric hospitals, which were understaffed due to low wages, hazardous working conditions and Covid. This took some 260 psychiatric beds offline, resulting in people across the state being diverted to remaining state facilities, including Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute, where many Arlington patients go.
The bed shortage has prompted Arlington County law enforcement agencies, the Dept. of Human Services and Community Services Board and VHC Health — the new name of Virginia Hospital Center — to work together to move away from a system that they say causes trauma and pulls officers away from important duties and toward a community-based continuum of care.
Just yesterday (Tuesday), VHC announced it will be building a facility dedicated to behavioral health at its former urgent care facility at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road.
“The crisis with the state hospital beds has forced us, locally and regionally, to bust our butt to come up with [ways to] help people who are in crisis,” says Deborah Warren, the executive director of the Arlington Community Services Board and the DHS Deputy Director.
Other events threw these systemic issues into relief, too, Warren says. The Richmond police shooting of Marcus-David Peters, who was having a psychotic episode, demonstrated the risk of police responding to a behavioral health problem while pandemic-era isolation has made mental illnesses more acute.
“It’s true for every population and age band,” Warren said. “People aren’t doing well, post-pandemic… Anybody can go into a behavioral health crisis… It’s neurotypical people who are overwhelmed and overrun with feelings of anxiety and depression… People are more self-destructive. It’s gut-wrenching.”
Last year, the Virginia legislature directed the state Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to discuss alternatives to police transportation, with stakeholders that included Arlington police, says ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage. The workgroup came up with the idea for the Prompt Placement Task Force, which brings together government agencies, public and private hospitals, law enforcement and community partners to address the crisis.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced the creation of this task force, of which Warren is a member, in December 2022. The goal is to come up with solutions that could be enacted this legislative session.
But the problem won’t get better until every locality has more services upstream, said state Sen. Barbara Favola, who noted Arlington has “more community-based care than most parts of the state.”
“Virginia has more people in psych beds than need to be there because we don’t have a community-based network to release them into care,” she said.
Historically, Virginia mostly funded state facilities and wealthy jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, like Arlington County, applied local tax dollars to their community services boards, explains Warren. But as evidenced by the current crisis, even Arlington has room to improve.
“We have a long way to go, and the state has a long way to go,” she said.
(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) All three candidates looking to replace Sheriff Beth Arthur, who retired at the end of last year, say they have ideas for changing how the jail is run.
They each say their ideas could help save the lives of those detained in jail, which is overseen by the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office.
In the last seven years, seven men have died while in jail, six of whom were Black, which led the Arlington branch of the NAACP to begin pushing for greater transparency from the office as well as changes to jail operations.
In most cases, the cause of death was ruled to be a “natural cause” — such as heart disease caused by high blood pressure — although opiate withdrawal was a complicating factor in one such case. One man died because of a mix of drugs in his system and another died by suicide.
“I’m concerned because the status quo is not working,” candidate Wanda Younger, who recently retired from the Sheriff’s Office after 31 years of service, said when she announced her campaign to the Arlington County Democratic Committee last week. “I will work with the County Board and state legislators to ensure there is 24-hour mental health and medical care for those detained.”
She later told ARLnow that outcomes would improve at the jail with this 24/7 supervision, as well as new leadership and more deputies on staff. The Sheriff’s Office, like the Arlington County Police Department, has been experiencing attrition that has made it harder for the department to perform basic duties, she says.
“I am committed to changing the lives of the staff, changing the lives of the detainees and changing your lives,” she said in her speech.
Jose Quiroz, who took over as the interim Sheriff yesterday (Monday) after Beth Arthur retired, says he wants to implement biometric screening — something the Sheriff’s Office has been discussing but has yet to purchase.
Inmates in the jail’s infirmary, which consists of 12 beds, would wear devices to monitor their vital signs , notifying staff of a medical emergency such as a substance use withdrawal. Depending on funding, he says, he would eventually like all inmates to wear such devices.
“We’re in 2023, technology is advanced — let’s use that to our advantage,” he tells ARLnow, adding that jails in some less urban, less wealthy jurisdictions from Alabama to Montana are already using this technology.
James Herring, a police officer with Arlington County, says the county should bring medical care in house. He suggested staffing the jail with psychiatrists and therapists who report to the county as well.
“We need to shift from a system that only treats people when something goes wrong to a system that” identifies problems before they arise, he said, adding that the jail should conduct baseline physicals and mental health checks, Herring told us after announcing his candidacy last week.
That may be more expensive, but it would give the Sheriff’s Office “full control and full knowledge” over what’s going on.
“Ms. Arthur started as a budget analyst,” he said. “We got what you’d expect to get when a budget analyst takes over.”
The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the county jail, will be ending voluntary cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In a letter to local activists and lawyers, Sheriff Beth Arthur said she will be updating ASCO policy regarding undocumented people after consulting with her attorney.
“The ASCO will no longer recognize any ‘voluntary action’ requests from ICE nor place the information in our records management system,” she said. “The sheriff’s office will no longer contact ICE for any releases from our facility, to include felony charges.”
The Sheriff’s Office will however “continue to follow state code and submit any required information to ICE and the Virginia State Compensation Board” and “continue to honor any judicially signed warrants from ICE, which will be treated like any other detainer,” the letter says.
In a statement, immigration nonprofit LaColectiVA and Legal Aid Justice Center and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild celebrated the decision.
“While there is more work to do to achieve all possible protections for people at risk of criminalization at the county level, this is a major win for Arlington County migrant communities,” they said. “We hope that this ongoing community effort will be a model for an ‘Arlington way’ where the people, particularly those who are most harmed by state violence in its different forms, are part of decision-making and leading changes toward truly just, safe and strong communities.”
The move comes after the Arlington County Board approved a “Trust Policy” limiting police cooperation with ICE this summer.
As part of the policy, the County Attorney will review relevant warrants, court orders and subpoenas received by county government offices, other than the police department, to determine if compliance with the federal immigration agency is required.
Officers can only notify ICE with approval from an on-duty watch commander or a supervisor ranked lieutenant or above. Cases must involve an undocumented immigrant who has committed a felony or has been deported before, or someone who was arrested on a violent felony, street gang offenses or a non-violent felony with a community safety, terrorism or human trafficking threat.
Violations of the policy will be investigated by the county or in the case of police, by the Community Oversight Board. Findings will go to the County Board.
At the time, activists criticized the policy for not requiring ASCO to stop notifying ICE when undocumented immigrants are released from jail, which they said led to “a breakdown of trust” in the migrant community.
Well look what we have here—the Arlington Sheriff ends its voluntary cooperation with ICE, which led to so many unjust detentions and deportations. Big ups to @LaColectiVA703 @LegalAidJustice @NLGnews and all the other advocates who made this happen. Incredible! pic.twitter.com/PZX5Aw6pUT
— Brad Haywood (@BradleyRHaywood) December 21, 2022
Now, Arthur says the forthcoming changes respond to the “impactful experiences that individuals and families in the community have had to face regarding ICE interactions.”
“I am extremely passionate about my role as Sheriff which includes ensuring the safety and security of the individuals in our custody as well as the citizens of Arlington County,” she said. “I pride myself on making informed decisions that benefit the communities I represent, which has led me to making the changes noted above.”
On Monday, a day before the date on Arthur’s letter, emails between members of the Arlington County Board and Legal Aid Policy regarding the decision to end ICE collaboration were reprinted in the conservative news site Breitbart.
Per the site, the emails — obtained by the conservative nonprofit Immigration Reform Law Institute — reveal “the extent to which Arlington County Board members are working hand-in-hand with activists from the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) to protect illegal aliens arrested for crimes from being turned over to [ICE] agents.”
It also brings up the county funding to LAJC.
Per the county’s 2022 budget, $25,000 would go to LAJC for offer legal aid and information to “help low-income immigrant workers and their families build assets and increase self-sufficiency.”
(Updated at 10:10 a.m.) Candidates are starting to emerge in the races to replace two retiring, long-time local elected officials.
Last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting featured candidate announcements from Jose Quiroz, who is running for Arlington County Sheriff, and Kim Klingler, who is running for Commissioner of Revenue.
Quiroz, a 21-year veteran of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office who would be the county’s first Latino sheriff, has the endorsement of retiring sheriff Beth Arthur.
More from a press release:
Tonight, Jose Quiroz announced his candidacy to be the Democratic nominee for Arlington County Sheriff before the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Jose has served the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office for over 21 years, rising through the ranks of the office and gaining experience in virtually every division.
“As Sheriff, I am committed to running a safe and progressive jail focused on rehabilitation and refocusing lives.” said Jose, “As part of this commitment I will explore eliminating phone and video call fees from the jail so that people in jail are able to maintain contact with their friends and family, which will make it easier for them to rejoin the community after incarceration.”
Additionally, current Sheriff Beth Arthur announced her early retirement this evening. As Chief Deputy, Jose will succeed Sheriff Arthur in January 2023. “I am incredibly thankful to have the support of Sheriff Arthur, a true leader and trailblazer as the first female Sheriff in Arlington County. I wish her well in her retirement after nearly 36 years with the office.”
On assuming the office, Jose will be the first Latino Sheriff in Arlington County. More about his platform and experience can be found at his campaign website: joseforsheriff.us
In Arlington County, the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for running the jail, providing courtroom security, transporting prisoners, serving summonses and assisting with traffic enforcement.
Also announcing a run for public office last night was Kim Klingler, a local civic figure who currently runs the Columbia Pike Partnership. Klingler is running for Commissioner of Revenue — the elected head of the local tax collection office — and would replace Ingrid Morroy.
Morroy, who first took office in 2004, announced her retirement and endorsed Klingler, according to a press release from the Columbia Pike Partnership.
Last night during the Arlington Democrats monthly meeting, Ingrid Morroy announced her retirement as Commissioner of Revenue for Arlington County and endorsed Kim Klingler, Columbia Pike Partnership Executive Director as her successor.
The Columbia Pike Partnership supports Kim’s decision to run for Commissioner of Revenue. “We’re excited about this opportunity for Kim. During the campaign and months ahead, Kim, the staff, and the board will remain focused on our mission and work in the community,” says Columbia Pike Partnership Board Chair Shannon Bailey.
The Columbia Pike Partnership does not endorse any political candidate in the 2023 election.
Morroy and Arthur have both been relatively popular in their respective roles, re-elected with more than 95% of vote in 2019 after running unopposed.
More recently, Arthur has faced scrutiny after a series of deaths at the jail, primarily among Black men. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against Arthur and the Sheriff’s Office earlier this year by the family of one of the men who died. The jail has since updated some of its medical protocols.
More candidate announcements are expected in the coming weeks and months. Two County Board seats will be on next year’s ballot and at least one will be open, with County Board Chair Katie Cristol not seeking reelection.
“We’ll have a lot more candidates announcing,” Arlington County Democratic Committee chairman Steve Baker told the Sun Gazette. “Next year will be a busy year.”
Next year’s Democratic primary will be held in June and will feature a ranked-choice voting system.
Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur says she will not be seeking reelection next year.
The first female sheriff in Arlington and in the state announced her decision in a statement released this morning. She has presided as Arlington County Sheriff for more than two decades.
“It has been a privilege and an honor to serve the citizens of Arlington County as their Sheriff but after 22+ years as Sheriff and 36 years with the Sheriff’s Office I think it’s time to hang up my spurs,” she said in a statement. “My focus has always been the employees in the Sheriff’s Office and the exceptional work they do each day, the safety and security of the jail/courthouse and ensuring those incarcerated are treated with dignity and respect.”
Arthur started in the Sheriff’s Office in January 1986 as the budget analyst under then-Sheriff James Gondles. In 1988, she was promoted to Director of Administration, overseeing human resources, budgeting, training and IT functions.
The Arlington Circuit Court appointed her Sheriff on July 7, 2000, and she was subsequently elected in a special election that November, per the press release. She was reelected in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. During that time, she joined several organizations, such as the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, where she became the first woman elected president and today serves on its Board of Directors and legislative committee.
Arthur thanked her staff of 298 for the “tireless work they do” to “prepare individuals to have tools and resources to return to their community to be productive members of society.”
She praised them for their Covid response, saying they “worked diligently to adapt policies and practices and they have done an outstanding job.”
Reflecting on her time in office, she expressed pride in how her deputies responded to 9/11. They served as first responders at the Pentagon, provided meals from the jail kitchen and screened delivery trucks.
“I am proud of our Arlington community as we rose to the challenge and embraced each other as one,” she said.
But, she said, her work is also about “those remanded into our care,” which included an average of 272 inmates a night between July 2021 and June 2022.
Her tenure saw upgrades to the inmate library, as well as the launch of the Community Readiness Unit — which provides transition services to inmates and follows them after their release — and work partnership programs, pet therapy and increased partnership with Offender Aid and Restoration, which works with incarcerated individuals in Arlington and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church.
During this time, however, seven men died in as many years while in jail. It’s unclear what caused the uptick, but the Sheriff’s Office previously told ARLnow reasons range from a lack of medical care outside of the jail to drug withdrawal.
The death of Darryl Becton in 2020 in particular sparked increased scrutiny of the jail’s practices, from the Arlington County Board but mostly the Arlington branch of the NAACP, of which Arthur is also a member. After Becton died, the NAACP called for an independent investigation, and this year, after the death of another inmate, Paul Thompson, it escalated this refrain by calling for an investigation by the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
It found evidence suggesting the jail had broken state regulations in Becton’s death, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. After the Sheriff’s Office outlined steps it took — hiring a quality assurance manager, making plans to buy a new medical tracking device, updating health check protocols and changing healthcare providers — the review board concluded that “no further measures are necessary” and closed its investigation.
A man who was charged in connection to the death of Darryl Becton in Arlington County jail in 2020 has been found not guilty.
Antoine Smith was charged in September 2021 with the misdemeanor of falsifying a patient record.
Smith worked for Corizon Correctional Health, the jail-based medical provider at the time of Becton’s death, which has been sued multiple times across the nation for inmate deaths allegedly connected to inadequate care.
When reached by phone, Smith’s attorney declined to comment on the outcome of the case.
The charge was levied against Smith as part of a year-long investigation into the circumstances surrounding Becton’s death at the Arlington County Detention Facility.
One month later, Becton’s family filed a $10-million wrongful death lawsuit against Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur, the elected official who oversees the jail and the Sheriff’s Office, as well as Corizon and four medical staffers, including Smith.
The suit alleges that medical staff did not treat and properly monitor Becton’s drug withdrawal symptoms or high blood pressure, despite being aware of his condition and the risks associated with it.
The lawyer for the case did not return a request for comment on how the not-guilty verdict for Smith impacts the lawsuit.
Becton was the fifth person — and the fourth Black man — to die in the facility while in custody in five years, according to the Arlington branch of the NAACP. Since then, the number of people who have died in the detention facility has risen to seven, prompting the Arlington County Board to pledge greater oversight over how the jail is managed.
For the NAACP, the charges against Smith were never its focus.
“Even had Mr. Smith been found guilty of that charge, it would not have answered the central question: why did Mr. Becton die?” Arlington NAACP President Julius “JD” Spain told ARLnow. “The NAACP remains committed to helping our entire community understand how this avoidable tragedy happened, so we can work together to ensure it never happens again.
“We will continue to advocate for a better public safety system that reduces the reliance on prisons as means of solving social problems, and advances effective law enforcement,” Spain continued.
The verdict does raise a host of questions about who supervises jail-based healthcare providers and their employees, and where was that supervisor when Becton died, Spain said.
“So, finally, why did it take this unnecessary and tragic death, seven in seven years, to ultimately cause the Sheriff’s office to find a new contractor?” Spain said. “To date, no one has been held accountable. Is it a toxic work environment, fear of retaliation, or improper management of personnel? Every day that passes without an answer, trust and confidence in leaders and the justice system erode.”
The jail has taken some corrective steps to improve its treatment of inmates, including hiring a quality assurance manager, planning to buy a new medical tracking device and updating health check protocols.
These actions led Virginia’s Jail Review Committee, part of the Board of Local and Regional Jails, to conclude that “no further measures are necessary” and close its investigation into the Arlington jail last month. Its investigation found evidence suggesting the jail had broken state regulations in Becton’s death, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The Arlington County Detention Facility has implemented several measures in response to the death of an inmate in 2020.
The jail has hired a quality assurance manager, planned to buy a new medical tracking device and has updated health check protocols, according to a document that summarizes corrective measures it has taken.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Darryl Becton’s family alleges that medical staff at the Arlington lockup did not treat and properly monitor Becton’s drug withdrawal symptoms or high blood pressure, despite being aware of his condition and the risks associated with it.
The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office took a number of preventive measures following the death. One was a special directive to instruct staff to place all inmates self-reporting or expecting to experience withdrawals in the Medical Unit of the jail, according to the summary document obtained by ARLnow.
The office also hired a quality assurance manager in April, whose job is to oversee all contractors providing medical, food, phone and other services to people held in custody. Cristen Bowers is currently the manager, according to a press release.
Other actions taken include directing staff to check the vitals of those going through withdrawals every four hours instead of eight. The office is also planning to buy a medical device system that will “track heart rates and alert workstations” if an inmate’s heart rate is abnormal. The office plans to have the purchase funded in during the current fiscal year, which runs through next July.
These actions led Virginia’s Jail Review Committee, part of the Board of Local and Regional Jails, to conclude that “no further measures are necessary” and close its investigation into the Arlington jail last month. Its investigation has found evidence suggesting the Arlington jail had broken state regulations in Becton’s death, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
However, not all of the jail’s remedial actions were made public. Two policies made in the immediate aftermath of Becton’s death are redacted in the summary obtained by ARLnow, with the Sheriff’s Office stating disclosure “would jeopardize the safety or security” of law enforcement officers, the public and buildings.
The Times-Dispatch requested documents from the board related to the investigation and the corrected action plans but release of the action plans were denied, and other documents provided were redacted, according to the Times-Dispatch. The board’s executive director told the paper it wanted to “protect the ‘privacy’ of people who die in jails, and their families.”
In response, Becton’s family, who is suing the sheriff and Corizon, along with individual Sheriff’s Office and Corizon employees, called for the board to release the details of its decisions and the jail’s corrective action plan, according to a statement from NAACP’s Arlington branch.
By not publishing its suggestions for improvement with the public or “the larger jailed and incarceration community,” the board is “not allowing transparency in the process,” Becton family’s attorney Mark Krudys told ARLnow.
He says the family did not know about the content of the board’s investigation or the jail’s action plan.
The Becton family’s lawsuit has now moved to U.S. District Court upon a request from Sheriff Elizabeth Arthur and a deputy who was also sued, according to a docket report. In October 2021, a Corizon nurse was charged with falsifying patient records by the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office. The criminal case is still ongoing.
Despite the corrective actions, another Arlington jail inmate died in custody this past February. Of the seven people to have died in custody at the jail over the past seven years, six have been Black, according to the NAACP.
A firefighter who rescued a construction worker in cardiac arrest via a crane. Police officers who tased a knife-wielding man outside of police headquarters. Paramedics who saved a woman’s life after she was accidentally run over by her own vehicle.
These were among the first responders who were given accolades at this morning’s annual Public Safety Awards, organized by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
Thirteen first responders and public safety workers were awarded for their efforts over the last year in helping, saving, and protecting members of the Arlington public.
- Dr. Aaron Miller — Director of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management — meritorious award for his work organizing the distribution of personal protection equipment and at-home Covid testing kits to the public, as well as managing public testing sites.
- Corporal Shellie Pugh-Washington — Sheriff’s Office — meritorious award for her 30-year career, first as a corrections officer and now as a background investigator.
- Deputy Babatunde Agboola, Deputy Christopher Laureano, and Deputy Seaton Sok — Sheriff’s Office — life-saving award for saving the life of an individual in law enforcement custody who was found bleeding and unconscious.
- Master Police Officer Tara Crider — Police Department — meritorious award for her work in the crime unit investigating forensic evidence as well as teaching others about her job.
- Officer Jesse R. Brown, Corporal Thomas C.J. DeNoville, and Corporal Juan P. Montoya — Police Department — life-saving award for successfully de-escalating a situation involving a knife-wielding man outside of police headquarters.
- Captain Cheryl Long — Fire Department — meritorious award for her work devising a system that helped organize first responders’ mandatory days off, saving hours of administrative work.
- Firefighter/EMT C.J. Kretzer and Firefighter/EMT Aaron Scoville — Fire Department — life-saving award for saving a woman’s life after she was accidentally run over by her own vehicle, partially severing one of her legs.
- Firefighter/Paramedic Jeremy Tate, Fire Department — a valor award for rescuing a construction worker who had gone into cardiac arrest at an excavation site, using an industrial crane.
ACPD provided additional information about each of the police awards above via social media.
The program was hosted by ABC7/WJLA reporter Victoria Sanchez, who noted that both her father and husband were police officers.
“I know how hard you guys work. When you go home today, thank your [family] for supporting you,” she said. “Your job is so difficult and they worry about you, just like I worried about my dad and my husband every single time they went out on patrol.”
Prior to the awards being announced, County Board Chair Katie Cristol provided a 12 minute “State of the County” address.
Cristol spoke of continuing recovery from the pandemic, office vacancy rates, Crystal City becoming a transportation hub, approving salary increases for first responders, and — notably — the missing middle housing study.
With the average sale of a home in Arlington spiking to beyond a million dollars, there are now “existential questions,” she said, about who Arlington will be for “if only the wealthiest can buy homes here.” Cristol said that legalizing alternate forms of housing on a single lot may not fix everything, but it could help.
“It can unlock opportunities that are currently off limits for far too many of our neighborhoods and make homes affordable to significant percentages of our black and Latino populations, affordable to moderate income earners like teachers,” she said. “It creates a pathway for innovations and ownership tools like community land trusts or expansions of the Moderate Income Purchase Assistance Program.”
After her address, there were several pre-selected questions including one about making temporary outdoor seating areas for restaurants permanent. Cristol noted that she was in favor of doing that, but cautioned that sidewalks and curb space where many of these seating areas are much desired.
“I joke that these are some of the most hotly contested areas of real estate in the county,” she said. “It’s about how we use sidewalks and manage that space between everything…from street trees to ADA accessibility to parking to bike lanes. So, it’s really about trying to balance all of those different interests.”
More on Cristol’s address from a Chamber of Commerce press release, below.
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.”
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.
“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.
(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.