Regional jail sued for $40M in 2016 death of inmate

This image of Hampton Roads Regional Jail was provided by the Norfolk Sheriff's Office.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The family of a man who died at Hampton Roads Regional Jail in 2016 has filed a $40 million wrongful death lawsuit.

Henry Stewart died at the jail in August of 2016. A medical examiner ruled the cause of death as a perforated ulcer.

The suit names Hampton Roads Regional Jail Authority and Correct Care Solutions, the medical company that operates in the jail. It also names several jail staff members.

Stewart was sent to the jail in June of 2016 on a probation violation stemming from a 2011 shoplifting charge. His sister, Michelle Wilson, says he wrote her frequently, but that in July, the letters stopped. She knew something was wrong.

“In his letters, he kept telling me, ‘They’re not helping me, they’re not helping me.'”

The family filed both a wrongful death and a civil rights lawsuit, saying his multiple requests for medical attention were largely ignored:

Instead of receiving timely and proper care for his serious medical needs, Stewart was sent on a circular pattern of being told to file medical requests and/or grievances, only to receive replies that his needs were ‘deemed not to be an emergency’ or that he needed to wait on a supposedly scheduled future appointment that never came, resulting in his never receiving access to adequate medical care.”

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According to the lawsuit, two days before his death, jail officials received an emergency grievance. Stewart reportedly said he couldn’t keep food or water down for two weeks, and that he blacked out twice in less than 24 hours. He wrote, “I need emergency assistance right away.”

The lawsuit claims instead, Stewart was told his issue was not an emergency. Eventually, nurses visited his cell, but did not transport him to a hospital.

“He was neglected,” said Stewart’s sister, Michelle Wilson. “They failed to help him when he asked for help. He literally begged them for help.”

According to the medical examiner’s report, Stewart lost more than 30 pounds in the two-month period he was at the jail.

“We don’t want to see this happen to another family because I truly believe this system has failed again and the system is broken and it needs to be fixed,” Wilson told 10 On Your Side.

Stewart died about a year after Jamycheal Mitchell died of apparent starvation. Mitchell’s family filed a similar lawsuit for $60 million. Both families are represented by the same lawyer, Mark Krudys.

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Attorney General Mark Herring referenced both deaths in his August 2016 request to have the Department of Justice open a civil rights investigation into the jail — one that remains ongoing to this day.

Since Stewart and Mitchell’s deaths, the jail has changed the way requests for medical help are filed.

Correct Care Solutions, the medical staff contracted by the jail at the end of 2015, did not return WAVY’s request for comment. Hampton Roads Regional Jail officials tell 10 On Your Side that they did not yet read the filing, and were not yet prepared to comment. However, Assistant Superintendent Linda Bryant told WAVY.com that if someone is “experiencing a medical emergency, they do not have to file paperwork. They can call out for help.”