Special Report: Death in the Portsmouth City Jail

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Pamela Riddick was a loving mother and grandmother, and would have been 57 on Oct. 13.  On that day, her family gathered and bought a cake to remember her.

Pamela's daughter Ameka, said, "All I want is answers on why she was neglected."

To get those answers into possible neglect, we go to the Portsmouth City Jail's surveillance camera video.  At 5:17 a.m., on Aug. 23, you can see a deputy delivering breakfast trays to two far jail cells seen by the camera.

Inmate Leslie Newman was in cell number 4, and the next one over in cell number 5 was her friend, Pamela Riddick. The two have been in the cell block before and it is reserved for women -- since women are only held at the Portsmouth City Jail (PCJ) for court appearances. The jail does not house women.

The Portsmouth Sheriff's Office reports that when Riddick was booked into the jail, she refused the standard medical examination inmates are offered when entering the jail.

We interviewed Newman about her claims the PCJ staff showed neglect in taking care of Pamela Riddick. "I called for deputies, and I got no response," she told us.

Newman claims she called out for deputies after Riddick in the other cell failed to respond to Newman's questions. "I had banged on the bars with the cup. I had called for them, and yelled for them. I waved my washcloth outside the bars."

We asked Portsmouth Sheriff's Spokesman Capt. Lee Cherry about Newman's claims.  He told us, "The story is simply unfounded...you would be led to believe that weren't taking care of the inmate down there, and not watching what we were  doing when in fact that is absolutely not true."

10 On Your Side watched one hour and 10 minutes of jail house video – which has no audio so we can't hear any screaming for deputies. But we never see Newman waving a washcloth to get help.  We asked Newman about that: "What about the white washcloth?" She answered, "You should be able to see it."  We responded back, "We never saw it." She said, "Never saw it?  So I don't know. I remember doing it. I remember waving the wash cloth."

Capt. Cherry responds to Newman's claim: "There was no one calling for help. They didn't hear any cups on the bars, they didn't see any towels."

What does the video show?

Newman claims she screamed for help 30-40 minutes after breakfast, which was delivered at 5:17 a.m., and then she fell asleep.  Newman admits she was in Detoxification -- which refers to the process of removing toxins from the body.  During that critical time from 5:17 a.m. to 5:46 a.m., six times deputies walk past Riddick's cell, and they claim no one was yelling for help.  We asked Newman about their saying she never yelled at all.

"I know they are saying that, and there are two witnesses there who say they never heard anyone yelling. They were right next to me, so I don't know because I was yelling."

We asked Capt. Cherry whether he thinks Newman is lying?  "In my opinion, yes," he responded.

Cherry thinks this is an important point because to ignore a plea for help could show neglect.  Sheriff’s office investigators interviewed two inmates who were there. Inmate number one is inmate Lillie.  She writes, "While I was there, I never heard anyone screaming or yelling."

We asked Newman about that, "I know.  I know what she said. I heard her."  We asked how does she explain that? Is she telling the truth? Newman said, "Yes, I am telling the truth."

Inmate number 2 Benton writes, "I was locked up...and while I was there I didn't hear no one yelling or hollering for help."

And then there's this from Newman, "The girl who was in the top bunk above me, she called for deputies also.  We asked what her name is. "I don't know her name.” The problem with this is, according to the sheriff's office records, Newman was alone in her cell.

The same video clearly shows deputies walking by Riddick's cell thinking she's asleep, and for 31 minutes don't pick up that she's actually having a fatal medical emergency.

"What does it matter if I walk by you, and I don't check to see if your chest is rising and falling, what does it matter?  It doesn't because they aren't doing their job," Newman said with great emotion and was crying.

"The deputies aren't there making sure you are still breathing," Cherry said

Is that something they should spend more time doing?  Is that a point? Cherry responded, "No, it is unrealistic that, with a jail full of people, that our deputies are going to walk through and do a hospital bed check...they are asleep, so they are not going to go in there and wake them up and say,  'are you, OK?'"

The beginning of the end for Pamela Riddick was at 5:46 a.m.  On the camera video you see the watch supervisor, and then a female deputy go into Riddick's cell to transfer her to another jail, when they finally realize: EMERGENCY!

One minute later, at 5:47 a.m., the watch commander shows up, realizes the gravity of the situation and  calls the jail medical staff – who then races to get an automated external defibrillator to shock the heart.  We are told CPR was underway inside the cell.

Two minutes later, at 5:49 a.m., the jail medical response team arrives. Nine minutes later, at 5:58 a.m., Portsmouth police and paramedics arrive and full medical attention is underway

At 6:03 a.m., 17 minutes after Riddick was first found in medical distress, she is brought out on a sheet and placed on a stretcher that can't fit in the cell block door.  You can see chest compressions underway.

Capt. Cherry tells us, "As soon as we realized that there was something wrong, then the medical help was there almost immediately. Our deputies are very well trained, and immediately got to work."

Cherry wants to show the unedited surveillance video to Ameca Riddick and her family, and to answer their questions. "I haven't heard from them since I lost my mom. No one has contacted me, no nothing."  We asked would you be willing to take Capt. Cherry up on his offer to meet with the family and show the entire surveillance video? Ameca shook her head. "No, not right now, no."

We still don't know how or why Pamela Riddick died.  Autopsy results have not been returned.

The family has called for a special grand jury to investigate this case. The Commonwealth's Attorney has reached out to the family, but says the Riddick's are not responding. Portsmouth police are continuing their investigation.

An internal investigation from the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office found no wrong doing on the part of the jail staff.

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