On November 8, 2014, 19-year-old Dai’yaan Longmire was an inmate in Virginia’s Indian Creek Correctional Center in southern Chesapeake, placed in solitary confinement during the third year of a four-year term. He was serving time after pleading guilty to a total of five felonies and two misdemeanors. The charges included burglary, grand larceny, theft of a firearm, and assaulting a law enforcement officer.
Before being incarcerated, the Virginia Beach teenager had a history of numerous mental health issues, including ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. He had been prescribed medications and was receiving psychiatric treatments. But after his incarceration, the state Department of Corrections ceased to provide his prescriptions.
And now, two days before he was due to get out of solitary, he learned that he as facing additional time there. After a corrections officer claimed Longmire tried to close his door on her, he was written up on a new charge that could bring him an additional month in solitary confinement.
The inmate was clearly in sad shape; other inmates reported he had been alternately screaming and crying most of the day, saying that he felt like he was going insane and was going to harm himself. According to another inmate, Longmire said as much to the same correctional officer who brought the additional charge against him, that he was thinking about harming himself.
In such cases, inmates can be put on suicide watch, placed in a cell without bedding or other furnishings that can be used in self-harm. Or they can be offered medical or mental health services. But in Longmire’s case, the prison and its staff did precisely nothing.
Thirty minutes later, Longmire was found dead in his cell, hanging from a bedsheet tied to a ceiling vent. In November 2016, his mother filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court in Norfolk against the Virginia Department of Corrections and several staffers at her son’s prison, seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney fees and court costs.
In recent weeks, the state reached an agreement to pay Longmire’s family $100,000 to settle the case. In making the settlement, the state made no admission of liability for Longmire’s death or negligence in its supervision of inmates or staff. The corrections officer who allegedly received but failed to act on Longmire’s warning had claimed in a deposition that she had earlier checked on Longmire’s well-being, although a check of security videotapes disproved that claim. (The officer is no longer employed by the Department of Corrections.)
The lawsuit had alleged inadequate medical care for state inmates, pointing to the system having only about 40 physicians and 14 psychiatrists to care for about 30,000 inmates statewide, and noting that under half of the inmates whose screenings indicate a mental health illness receive any follow-up care.
Neither representatives of Longmire’s family, the Department of Corrections, or the state attorney-general had any comment on the settlement. A representative of the family did voice several complaints about the prison’s manner of giving notice of Longmire’s death, however. Longmire’s mother reportedly didn’t learn of her son’s death until four days after it occurred, when she received a letter from the Indian Creek warden.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.