Calls for transparency over change in Arlington Co. inmates’ health care amid death investigations

The community is asking for transparency on why Arlington County, Virginia, is ending its agreement with the company that provided health care to inmates at the detention center three years before it was set to expire.

The change comes weeks after a nurse who worked at the detention center was charged with falsifying the records of an inmate who died. The man, who is Black, died during the Sheriff’s Office’s watch, and there are questions as to what happened.

Corizon Health worker Antoine Smith was charged with falsifying patient records in connection with the death of Darryl Becton, 46. And almost exactly one year after Becton was found unresponsive in his cell in October 2020, the sheriff’s office reported that Clyde Spencer passed away while in custody.

“Men of color, all who up until this point under the age of 50, are going to this detention facility and dying,” said Julius “JD” Spain Sr., president of the Arlington chapter of the NAACP.

Spain, who was inquiring about the circumstances around Becton’s death at the detention center, said that when he learned of Spencer’s passing, “alarm bells went off.”

“Someone needs to come in here and figure out what the hell is going on in Arlington County with these deaths of inmates,” he told WTOP.

Spencer, 58, was homeless, according to Spain, and detained three days before his death for trespassing. A source within the police department said it does not appear that Spencer took his own life.

“Some preliminary findings came out saying that Mr. Becton had opiate withdrawal and some hypertension, or high blood pressure? I don’t know. That still didn’t pass muster. But we want to know, basically, how did a citizen come to the jailhouse that presented himself with certain conditions and end up dying? Was there no one watching him?” Spain asked.

This week, Arlington County announced it is terminating its recently renewed contract with Corizon, which provided health care for inmates at the county detention center.

The county board is now working with an unnamed company, which will take over care from Corizon by Nov. 15.

This move comes 20 days after Spencer’s death in custody and three weeks after Smith, a nurse who posted that he worked for Corizon at the detention center, was charged with falsifying patient records.

Smith faces one misdemeanor charge “in connection with the investigation into the death of Mr. Darryl Becton, who died in custody a year ago,” according to a news release from Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti.

After getting no answers for 10 months, Spain said the NAACP sent a formal inquiry to Dehghani-Tafti on Aug. 9 that read in part, “Full transparency is needed when it comes to interactions between law enforcement and our minority communities.”

The Commonwealth’s Attorney wrote Spain back days later saying, “Our inquiry remains active and ongoing.”

“We take these incidents seriously and our obligation to the community seriously. While we cannot discuss further details … suffice it to say that we will pursue the truth, wherever it might lead,” Dehghani-Tafti said in a statement to WTOP.

The sheriff’s office confirms that Becton’s case is still under investigation by Arlington County police, by a task force comprising police, sheriff’s investigators, and prosecutors, and that there will be an administrative internal investigation within its office. The Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team is investigating Spencer’s death.

Meanwhile, Spain wants an independent investigation into the sheriff’s office and leadership, which may have been aware of unhealthy conditions inside the jail for years. Six inmates, all men of color, have died in custody since 2015, Spain said.

“The sheriff’s office has a constitutional responsibility by law to ensure the well-being, health and wellness of all inmates it’s taking care of … There’s just people being complicit in this. And it’s taken too damn long to get down to the bottom, of it,” Spain said.

Corizon Health and the Arlington County Board have not responded to WTOP’s request for comment.

Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur said in a statement that her office is “committed to providing the highest level of care to all individuals in our custody while ensuring transparency with the public. We understand the concerns raised by the Arlington NAACP, and take the responsibility of caring for those who are in our custody very seriously.”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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