Family secures $ 2.2 million settlement for death of Georgia inmate, calls for criminal investigation

By Christina Carrega, CNN

Georgia’s struggling prison system agreed to pay $ 2.2 million to the family of a transgender woman, whose suicide threats were ignored and who was left hanged in her cell for several minutes before being sentenced to death. medical care, according to surveillance video and affidavits filed in a civil lawsuit.

The settlement is one of the largest wrongful death settlements in the history of Georgia’s prison system and comes as the Justice Ministry launched a broad civil rights investigation into allegations of unconstitutional abuse of prisoners in the prisons. Georgian prisons.

Jenna Mitchell would have turned 29 last month. Instead, four years after her death in hospital after hanging herself with sheets while in isolation, Mitchell’s family are still mourning her death.

“The financial settlement is hardly in favor of any kind of justice,” Mitchell’s mother Sheba Maree told CNN in an exclusive interview. “I would rather have my child… nothing will ever, ever, ever, ever take my child’s place. To me, that’s blood money, and I won’t stop until those involved in his death are held accountable. “

Maree calls for a criminal investigation into the death. She believes her daughter was neglected by the guards because she was transgender.

State prisons across Georgia have come under fire for years from a litany of residents, family members and civil rights organizations who have complained about what they describe as inhumane conditions such as cells covered in feces and urine due to sewer backups and violence between prisoners.

In September, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice announced a statewide survey on homicides inside prisons, violence between prisoners and sexual abuse of gay, lesbian and transgender prisoners by other inmates and staff.

Kristen Clarke, head of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, said at the time of the announcement that the statewide investigation would also address the devastating effects of “prison staff shortages,” inadequate policies and training and lack of accountability “.

Maree and all of the defendants named in the lawsuit agreed to dismiss the civil lawsuit with prejudice, according to the settlement document filed in court on Monday.

CNN has contacted the Georgia Department of Corrections for comment, and a spokesperson referred the questions to the office of state attorney general Chris Carr. Carr’s office declined to comment.

Mitchell was an inmate at Valdosta State Prison serving up to 10 years on a robbery conviction in 2015. While identifying as a transgender woman, she was being held in a male prison.

Maree says she watched in horror for two days as her older brother, who dreamed of joining the military and admired the military, was in a coma after hanging himself in solitary confinement and handcuffed to a bed in ‘hospital.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said Valdosta was part of her civil rights investigation.

Days before Mitchell’s suicide, Maree said she called the prison and informed the principal that her daughter was threatening to kill herself.

Mitchell suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and untreated gender dysphoria, according to the family’s lawsuit. Instead of placing her under suicidal surveillance, she was transferred to a building dedicated to the isolation of detainees, according to a statement from a prison official.

Maree said her daughter had been in intermittent solitary confinement for eight to nine months and “could hardly ever speak to him.”

“They killed my child; they didn’t do anything to help my child, ”Maree said as her voice cracked.

More than 30 minutes of surveillance video from inside the prison that was filed in connection with the trial and reviewed by CNN shows a correctional officer and a sergeant walking around a section of the prison where Mitchell was being held.

According to the lawsuit, the officer and sergeant ignored Mitchell’s calls for help and then did not respond in a timely manner when she attempted to hang herself in her cell.

The video, which has no audio, also shows an unidentified inmate working as a medic in the prison near Mitchell’s cell. The medic, whose name has been redacted from court documents, said he tried to get the sergeant and corrections officer to help Mitchell, according to a statement released by family lawyers as part of of the discovery process and shared with CNN.

The nurse said the corrections officer made fun of Mitchell and encouraged her to kill herself by saying, “OK, what are you waiting for, go ahead.” After a few minutes, the officer walked away and Mitchell shouted, “Don’t leave me,” according to the nurse’s statement.

Shortly after the correctional officer walked away, the medic walked over to Mitchell’s cell, saw her hanging from a noose attached to a vent, her feet off the ground, according to the statement.

The medic said he ran to find the sergeant, who he said smiled and laughed when told Mitchell hanged herself. The video shows the sergeant and then the correctional officer walking away, and more than 10 minutes pass before they return.

The sergeant and the prison officer denied parts of the nurse’s story, including the taunting and inability to act quickly, according to testimony they gave in the trial. They said they didn’t have the proper tool to “cut” Mitchell out of the noose, and a third correctional officer ran to ask medical staff for help.

David Shanies, a civil rights attorney who represented the family, said there was a “superficial” investigation by the Georgia Department of Corrections that resulted in recommendations that staff members be retrained on how to handle suicide of an inmate.

“There was no real investigation into what happened; an investigation must be conducted to find out what happened to Jenna, ”Maree said. “They have to investigate what happened to my child and those involved have to go to jail.”

Shanies said, “The lack of a serious investigation was shocking and inexcusable. The prison guards stayed there and let one person die in front of their eyes. … It is deeply disturbing.

The manager at the time of Mitchell’s death, who was also named in the lawsuit brought by Shanies and the ACLU, declined to comment. The corrections officer, also named as the accused, could not be reached for comment.

Shanies says the settlement is a record civilian recovery in connection with the death of a Georgian prisoner. Public records show that the last six-figure payment was in 2016 for $ 1.2 million after the December 1999 death of Thomas M. Fitzgerald, who died tied to a bed in an isolated cell.

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