Huffington Post: When Jamycheal Mitchell, a mentally ill 24-year-old, died at Hampton Roads Regional Jail last August after his arrest for a $5 theft, reporters and state officials jumped to investigate. The jail has since come under intense scrutiny, and last week Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring requested a federal civil rights investigation into the conditions inside the facility.
But less than three months after Mitchell died, a 60-year-old man named Mark Goodrum, who faced a misdemeanor charge for smoking marijuana in his own home, was rushed from the same jail to a nearby medical center, where he died.
Goodrum’s death, unlike Mitchell’s, did not receive news coverage. Most jail deaths, even at controversial facilities like Hampton Roads, don’t attract the attention of the national media or state attorneys general. So Goodrum’s death was reported for the first time in The Huffington Post’s jail deaths investigation, which set out to record every jail death that took place in the year after Sandra Bland died in Texas on July 13, 2015. Only Goodrum’s name and date of death ― Nov. 13, 2015 ― appeared on the state records we obtained through a public records request. Now we have more details.
Goodrum had severe medical issues, and although there are well-documented problems with medical care at Hampton Roads Regional Jail, it is not yet clear whether jail officials are at fault in his death.
What we do know is that Goodrum spent a month in custody, and that he only ended up there because he couldn’t come up with $100 to purchase his freedom — all for smoking marijuana in his own home.
The Huffington Post was able to piece together some of the details of Goodrum’s story through interviews, public records requests and a review of court records and social media.
On the afternoon of Jan. 8, 2014, two city police officers were dispatched to a towering apartment building in Newport News, Virginia, after residents complained about the smell of marijuana on the first floor. In a report, an officer and his partner reported detecting a “strong odor of marijuana” as they approached the door. When they knocked, Mark Goodrum answered.
Although much of the report is redacted, records indicate that Goodrum was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, and material suspected to be marijuana was seized from the home. The victim in the report was listed as the “Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Public records indicate that Goodrum was soon evicted from that apartment. He missed his first court date, then suffered a serious medical setback.
“He had a stroke,” Elvis Blunt, a friend who had served as caretaker for Goodrum, said in an interview. “He lost all movement on his right side, and then he was an amputee so [he] only had one leg, and that was on his left side, and his right leg didn’t work no more. He was pretty much bedridden.”
As he continued dealing with his medical issues, Goodrum missed another court date. He faced two additional charges for failure to appear, and warrants were put out for his arrest.
Goodrum didn’t exactly hide his love of marijuana. His Facebook cover photo was an American flag rolling paper filled with buds, and his last name on the social network was a marijuana reference. (Elvis Blunt, on the other hand, really is named Elvis Blunt.) When a friend started a crowdfunding campaign for Goodrum, he wrote a post reassuring potential donors that he wouldn’t be spending the money on marijuana. But Blunt, who said he has spent time in prison, said that Goodrum was just a marijuana user, not a dealer.
“He couldn’t go nowhere,” Blunt said. “That’s just what he did to cope with his pain.”