(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 inmate Paul Thompson died yesterday, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office told ARLnow.
Thompson, 41, was found unresponsive yesterday afternoon in the Arlington County Detention Center and rushed to Virginia Hospital after resuscitation efforts by doctors, but was later pronounced dead.
Mediko had been operating on an emergency order since Nov. 16, after the county dropped its former correctional health care provider following a string of six inmate deaths in six years. The 2020 death of another inmate, Darryl Becton, has prompted charges against a man who appears to have worked for the prison’s former medical provider.
Thompson’s death brings the total number of inmates who have died at the county jail, which is operated by the sheriff’s office, to seven in seven years. Six of the seven people who died, including Thompson, were black.
ACSO spokeswoman Major Tara Johnson said the number of inmate deaths was “absolutely” increasing, but she found no clear trend behind the increase.
“Before five, six years…it wasn’t something we looked at every year,” she said. “Now we’ve definitely seen an uptick.”
Deaths occur for a variety of reasons, she says, including lack of medical care outside prison for issues such as heart disease or diabetes or drug withdrawal. Thompson was in the prison’s medical unit when he was found unconscious, having returned from hospital about 10 days ago for treatment for a medical condition that Johnson declined to disclose.
Heart problems were the listed causes of the two most recent inmate deaths.
Clyde Spencer, the 58-year-old man who died in 2021, died of atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseasecaused by plaque buildup in the arteries, and his manner of death was ruled natural, the Virginia Chief Medical Examiner’s Office said Wednesday.
ARLnow previously learned that Becton died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease, caused by sustained high blood pressure, complicated by opiate withdrawal. His way of dying was also determined to be natural.
To prevent drug-related deaths, she said the sheriff’s office has a body scanner that examines inmates when they are booked, as well as drug tests when they leave and return to jail. by court order.
“Our policy is pretty solid, but it requires a lot of training and a lot of reviewing the 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 issues, although not all inmates are under constant observation, she said.
The sheriff’s office will conduct an internal review to determine if 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 independent review.
The Arlington County Police Department, meanwhile, will conduct a criminal investigation.
“Historically, the ACPD did their criminal investigation first and then we did ours,” Johnson said. ‘We have decided – since the criminal investigation into Mr. Becton’s death has taken so long – to start conducting them alongside the ACPD investigations.’
The ACPD is currently overseeing the investigation into Becton’s death, which recently took a turn when a man was charged with the misdemeanor of tampering with a patient record.
That investigation remains open while the case progresses in the General District Court, ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said.
The investigation into Spencer’s death remains an active investigation by the Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team, Savage said. This regional team investigates deaths or injuries involving law enforcement, including officer suicides and shootings involving officers.
When this is complete, the entire case will be forwarded to the Commonwealth Prosecutor’s Office for independent review, she said.
In a statement, the Arlington County government said it fully supports ASCO and ACPD during the investigation.
“The death of any member of the Arlington County community is cause for concern,” the county government said. “We are saddened by the passing of Mr. Thompson and share our condolences with his family and loved ones.”
Shortly after the death was announced, the Arlington branch of the NAACP called for an investigation by the US Department of Justice.
Johnson says the sheriff’s office wouldn’t stand in the way.
“We are open to any independent investigation,” she said. “We want to be as transparent as possible with the public…for 24 hours our entire staff has been on this issue.”