The family of a transgender woman in Georgia who was sent to a men’s prison and then routinely taunted by guards until she took her own life will be receiving a $2.2-million wrongful-death settlement from the state’s prison system.
Trudy Ring of The Advocate reported that the settlement, which is one of the largest-ever awarded in the state, will be going to “the family of Jenna Mitchell, who died Dec. 6, 2017, at Valdosta State Prison when she was just shy of age 25.”
According to Ring, “Mitchell was imprisoned at Valdosta for a 2015 robbery conviction and was serving a sentence of up to 10 years. Prison officials had placed her in solitary confinement at various times over several months. At the time of her death, she had been in solitary confinement for two weeks.”
In the lawsuit her family filed, Mitchell reportedly told her family that she had been promised to be moved to a compound for transgender inmates. When her transfer didn’t happen, she again wrote to her family saying she was going to “pull a ‘suicide stunt.’”
When her mother, Sheba Maree, got the letter, she immediately alerted prison staff, asking them to watch out for Mitchell, who had a complicated medical history, including bouts of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder along with existing “gender identity issues.”
The warning from Maree did no good. Just two days later, Mitchell committed suicide using bedsheets in her cell.
“An inmate working as an orderly told the family’s lawyers that immediately before that, a corrections officer making rounds at the prison had responded to Mitchell’s suicide threat by saying, ‘OK, what are you waiting for, go for it,’” Ring reported. “The orderly had tried to get the officer and a sergeant to help Mitchell, but they walked away, even as she called out, ‘Don’t leave me,’ according to the orderly’s statement, cited by CNN. There was a 10-minute delay in cutting her down.”
Following her hanging, Mitchell went into a coma and died two days later.
After her death, the officer and the sergeant at the prison said they had never taunted Mitchell and claimed they had been trying to locate the proper tools to “cut her down” after she was discovered hanging in her cell.
In an interview with CNN, Maree said she didn’t believe their “excuses.”
“They killed my child,” she said. “They did nothing to help my child.”
David Shanies, the lawyer representing the Mitchell family, added that only a superficial investigation was completed following Mitchell’s death. He urged a more thorough probe into the case and demanded the state hold staff at the prison accountable for Mitchell’s death.
“There is no question that they should,” he told the press. “Even a record-setting civil recovery cannot begin to repair the damage caused by this horrific event.”
“The financial settlement is barely nudging any kind of justice,” Maree told CNN. “I’d rather have my child … nothing will ever, ever, ever, ever take the place of my child. To me, this is blood money, and I will not stop until the people involved with her death are held responsible.”