Metro Weekly

Georgia prison system pays family of trans inmate $2.2 million after death by suicide

Jenna Mitchell's family called the settlement "blood money" and demanded a criminal investigation

jenna mitchell, trans, transgender, georgia, inmate
Photo by Hédi Benyounes on Unsplash

Georgia’s prison system has agreed to pay $2.2 million to the parents of a transgender inmate who died by suicide in her cell in 2017 — after officials ignored her threats and waited several minutes before getting medical help, according to documents filed in a civil lawsuit.

The settlement, first reported by CNN, was reached on Dec. 6 — the fourth anniversary of Jenna Mitchell’s death.

It is one of the state’s prison system’s biggest wrongful death settlements ever and follows the Justice Department’s investigation into allegations of unconstitutional abuse in Georgia prisons.

“The financial settlement is barely nudging any kind of justice,” Mitchell’s mother, Sheba Maree, told CNN. “I’d rather have my child… Nothing will ever, ever, ever, ever take the place of my child.”

Maree continued: “To me, this is blood money, and I will not stop until the people involved with her death are held responsible.”

Mitchell, 25, was being held at a men’s prison despite being approved for gender-affirming surgery, according to a lawsuit filed by her parents in 2019.

The suit claims that Mitchell was placed in solitary confinement after being told by prison staff that she was “being moved to the compound for transgender inmates.”

Two weeks later, on Dec. 4, 2017, Mitchell hanged herself. She died after spending two days in a coma.

Maree had called the prison on Dec. 2 after her daughter told her in a letter that she was going to attempt suicide. According to the suit, Maree took the threat seriously because Mitchell suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and gender dysphoria and “had engaged in a pattern of suicidal and self-harming behavior.” Prison officials informed Maree that Mitchell had already attempted suicide but was “okay.”

Shortly thereafter, Mitchell was returned to solitary confinement, rather than placed on suicide watch. On Dec. 4, she told a corrections officer that she planned to hang herself. Yet the officer left her alone to report the threat, the suit says.

An orderly testified that before her death, officers taunted Mitchell, encouraging her to take her own life.

After Mitchell died, the suit continues, the officer’s supervisor “prepared a false incident report to cover up” the officer’s conduct. Despite knowing the report was falsified, the warden approved it.

Mitchell’s parents’ attorney, David B. Shanies, called for a criminal investigation into her death, saying in a statement “there is no question that [wrongdoers] should” be held accountable.

“Even a record-setting civil recovery cannot begin to repair the damage caused by this horrific event,” he said.

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