The day after learning his son had died alone in a jail cell, sitting upright with headphones on, Shawn Samuel Sr. stepped into the garage to sob away from his 3-year-old granddaughter.
They hadn’t told her yet, he said, but she knew.
“I heard her cousin ask, ‘Why is your grandpa crying?”’ Samuel recalled. “And she said, ‘He’s sad because he wants to see my daddy.’ ”
March 14, 2016, was the day Shawn Samuel Jr., 22, should have walked out of the Richmond jail and moved on with the rest of his life. He and two other men who died in custody within 72 hours of one another this week in apparently unrelated incidents will not get that chance.
Officials said that the three are the first inmates of the Richmond City Justice Center to die since the facility received the old jail’s entire inmate population nearly one year ago. The old facility was chronically overcrowded and lacked air conditioning in the men’s tiers.
Samuel wants answers. Jail officials say they can’t give them, citing ongoing investigations and toxicology tests that could take up to 12 weeks.
“To have no information, it’s like a slap in the face,” he said. “It hurts — not knowing.”
The lawyer for one of the inmates said his client was suffering from repeated seizures and was not getting medication to help him.
“He said he needed his medication to stop the seizures, and he wasn’t getting it,” said local attorney James A. Bullard, who learned of Zachary E. Tuggle’s death from the man’s family Monday.
Tuggle was facing a weapons charge and had been due in court for a bond motion this week that could have freed him pending trial, Bullard said. “There was a chance that he would have gotten out and received the help he needed,” Bullard said.
A spokesman for the Richmond Sheriff’s Office did not respond when asked about Bullard’s comments.
According to information released Friday afternoon by Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr., the 29-year-old Tuggle died Monday afternoon less than an hour after he was found having an unspecified medical emergency in his cell.
Authorities said they were awaiting a preliminary autopsy report and a toxicology report from the state medical examiner’s office to determine the cause and manner of death.
On Wednesday, Samuel was found unresponsive in his cell one floor below Tuggle’s sixth-floor cell. Lifesaving measures failed to revive him, and he was pronounced dead less than an hour after being found at 3:16 a.m.
In a conversation less than 12 hours earlier, he and his fiancee had focused on their future, said Dakiesha Teeters, the mother of Samuel’s daughter.
“When I met him, I had a 2-year-old that he took in as his own,” Teeters said. “He loved his family and was always talking about our kids and what we were going to do when he got out.”
A preliminary report from the medical examiner’s office shows that no signs of foul play were found, according to the Sheriff’s Office. A final autopsy report will not be issued until toxicology results are known, officials said.
Teeters received word of Samuel’s death through another inmate around 9 a.m. Thursday, she said. She drove to the jail in a panic to confirm the information with officials, who she said did not want to discuss the matter over the phone.
“I don’t understand why it took so long for anyone to let us know what was going on,” she said.
Samuel was booked into the jail in September and was serving a sentence on three larceny charges, one escape charge and two burglary charges, the Sheriff’s Office said.
He planned to go back to school upon his release, his father said.
“He told me, ‘I made bad choices, but I’m ready to move forward,’ ” Samuel Sr. recalled, of the last conversation they had. “He was — as usual — in really good spirits.”
Javon Antoine Morris, 38, of South Richmond, was the third inmate to die in the jail complex and fell into a medical emergency in the medical tier.
The 6:46 p.m. medical emergency Wednesday, the nature of which jail officials refused to disclose on Friday, came just hours after Morris had been arraigned on a misdemeanor assault charge in the Manchester Courthouse. A judge set a $3,000 bond.
He had been arrested the day before for an alleged assault that took place March 11. Other details of the case were not available because court officials late Friday could not locate Morris’ court file.
After jail staff called for emergency assistance shortly before 6:55 p.m., Morris was taken to VCU Medical Center, a few blocks away. He was pronounced dead at 8:22 p.m.
Other details were being withheld by the sheriff’s department pending results of dual investigations by the Sheriff’s Office and Richmond Police Department.
The state’s medical examiner’s office was determining causes of death in the cases. An office spokesman did not return requests for comment Friday.
Bullard said Tuggle, who lived in Richmond, had been housed in the medical unit at the jail and was getting treatment but then was moved to a cell in the general population. “He said he needed to get his medication,” Bullard said. “He was close to getting this taken care of, but it just didn’t happen.”
Medical care for Richmond jail inmates is handled by NaphCare, a national firm headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., that runs health services at 17 jails across the country, including three in Virginia.
Any policies concerning the distribution of inmates’ medication would be set by the company in coordination with jail administration, said Donna Lawrence, a compliance and accreditation official with the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Calls to NaphCare were not returned Friday.
The jail signed a three-year contract with the firm last fall. Efforts to obtain that document from city officials were unsuccessful Friday.
Jails must meet minimum standards for inmate care laid out in state administrative code. Facilities must provide a tuberculosis test within a week of intake and include medical screenings upon admission.
Policies governing inmate intake are required to include the following:
• screening for current illnesses, health problems and conditions;
• screening for current symptoms regarding the inmate’s mental health, dental problems, allergies, present medications, special dietary requirements; and
• inquiry into past and present drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues and possible pregnancy or gynecological problems.
The Richmond jail’s medical practices met those minimum standards during the most recent audit of the facility, Lawrence said.
A sheriff’s spokesman did not provide copies of the jail’s inmate health care policies and procedures Friday.
The administration of Mayor Dwight C. Jones declined to comment and referred a reporter back to Woody’s statement.
Woody said his office joined with the families in mourning and pledged to provide them with “the answers they deserve.”
Samuel said he will continue asking questions until he receives answers.
“I know they were inmates, but that doesn’t mean they don’t mean something to somebody,” Samuel said. “My son meant everything to me.”