NAACP says Arlington jail inmates are ‘dying at an alarming rate’

Eight people have died in the Arlington County, Virginia, jail over the past eight years, leading to new concerns from community activists.

The latest person to die while in custody was Abonesh Woldegeorges, 73, who was found unresponsive in her cell on Sunday morning.

Woldegeorges was arrested and taken to jail earlier this month, accused of trespassing at Reagan National Airport.

“Our primary concern is around Arlington County criminalizing homelessness and Arlington County’s inability to care for those that need help the most,” said Michael Hemminger, president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP.

Woldegeorges, who was experiencing homelessness, had been warned repeatedly by police in recent years about hanging out in area airports and living there.

“We have people that are unhoused living in Arlington, and they’re being arrested on trespassing charges,” said Hemminger. “They have nowhere to go, so almost anywhere that they go is going to be considered trespassing.”

Out of the eight people who have died at the jail over the past eight years, five were homeless, according to Hemminger.

“These folks end up in the jail, and they’re dying at an alarming rate,” Hemminger said. “All of the people that have passed away have been people of color, so that’s also pretty alarming to us.”

In the case of Woldegeorges, the cause of death and the circumstances around her case remain under investigation by the Arlington County Police Department.

The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, which manages the jail, said in a statement to WTOP that it “expresses profound sadness over the death of Abonesh Woldegeorges.”

“There is an ongoing police investigation, and we are fully cooperating with all aspects of the investigation,” the sheriff’s office said.

Hemminger said his group would be following the case “very closely.”

“We’re going to let the investigation take its course and we’re going to make sure that it’s proper and thorough,” Hemminger said. “We’ll be conducting our own investigation and if we find that there were violations, then we will hold those responsible people accountable.”

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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