The Virginia State Police has charged a fellow inmate in an Aug. 12 assault at the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville that resulted in the death of a 34-year-old Culpeper man.
Jason Patrick Sisson arrived at the jail on July 13 to serve a nine-month stint, according to the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office, which handles prisoner transport for the county.
According to state police spokesperson Corinne Geller, the agency charged George M. Chute, 35, an inmate at the jail, with malicious wounding in the attack on Sisson, who died 10 days later. Geller said the charge was the result of an investigation by the VSP’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Appomattox Field Office, in conjunction with authorities from the Piedmont Regional Jail.
Troopers initiated the investigation on Aug. 21 at the request of the Prince Edward County commonwealth’s attorney.
The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Richmond confirmed that Sisson was transported there for an autopsy last week. On Thursday, the medical examiner determined that the cause of death was “complications of blunt force injury to the head” and listed Sisson’s manner of death as homicide.
Sisson was arrested in Culpeper on April 13, 2016, and charged with possession of a controlled substance. The criminal complaint said a sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to Sisson’s residence for a reported overdose after his girlfriend returned from shopping and found him on the kitchen floor.
About 0.23 grams of a “light tan powder,” later determined to be heroin, was found inside a folded dollar bill in the bathroom next to the kitchen, as well as several needles, according to court records. Sisson had been alone in the house.
He was sentenced on July 5 in Culpeper Circuit Court to 10 years in prison, with all but nine months suspended. In addition, his driver’s license was suspended for six months.
The family held a well-attended funeral Sunday at Found & Sons in Culpeper. Vicky Sisson, Jason’s mother, gave the eulogy for her son.
“He was larger than life. He was loved by so many people,” the grieving mother said.
Sisson leaves behind a young son, Carter.
His family has retained a lawyer, Jonathan Slater, of Slater & Smith in Orange.
“The family is heartbroken over Jason’s death. It would be premature to comment on any specifics of the case, as the investigation remains ongoing,” said Slater on Tuesday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, and we are doing everything we can to help them through this difficult time.”
Repeated calls to Piedmont Regional Jail Superintendent Donald Hunter were not returned.
Four inmates died at Piedmont Regional Jail between June 1, 2013, and Sept. 3, 2016, according to the Richmond Times–Dispatch. Sisson makes five.
The U.S. Department of Justice released a report in 2012 that found prisoners at Piedmont Regional Jail were at “unreasonable risk of serious harm” because of shortcomings in the jail’s medical and mental health care.
“Our initial inquiry was prompted, in part, by a series of allegedly preventable deaths in the jail between 2006 and 2009,” according to the findings of the investigation. “We learned from our inquiry that the circumstances of some of these deaths indicated a possible pattern of deliberate indifference to prisoners’ serious medical needs.”
As a result, the DOJ required the jail to employ adequate and credentialed health care staff and to perform timely health screenings and assessments, among other changes.
Due to crowding at Culpeper’s jail, the county transports as many as 100 local inmates for holding at any given time—at a cost of about $30 per day—to either Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange or the Piedmont jail, which is about 100 miles south of Culpeper.
Thirty-seven-year-old Shawn Berry, of Rapidan, died Aug. 9, 2014, at the CVRJ. Berry’s mother, Sherri Thornhill, of Culpeper, filed a $22.5 million lawsuit against the jail, claiming her son received inadequate medical treatment while at CVRJ.
That case is set for a two-week trial beginning Nov. 6.