RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The FBI is investigating the death of a mentally challenged prison inmate in Virginia who has been identified as “a possible victim of a crime,” the FBI said in a document reviewed Monday by The Associated Press, months after a federal lawsuit was filed alleging the man was fatally beaten by correctional officers.
The February 2022 death of Charles Givens, who was serving time for murder at the Marion Correctional Treatment Center, is the subject of a federal lawsuit alleging that Givens was “sadistically tortured” and beaten before becoming unresponsive at the Southwest Virginia facility.
“This case is currently under investigation by the FBI,” said an email from an FBI victim specialist to an attorney for Givens’ sister. “A criminal investigation can be a lengthy undertaking, and for a variety of reasons we are unable to tell you about its progress at this time.”
The email was dated Sunday and was shared with the AP by Kym Hobbs, Givens’ sister and the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in February. Nothing in the message indicated the scope or purpose of the apparent investigation.
Hobbs, who said the email was the first correspondence she’d had with the FBI regarding her brother’s death, said she welcomed the development.
“I hope someone will actually do something,” she said.
Dee Rybiski, an FBI spokeswoman in Richmond, declined to comment, noting that the agency usually neither confirms nor denies the existence of investigations.
Hobbs’ lawsuit alleges that her brother had been routinely assaulted at Marion before one last fatal encounter. Details of the lawsuit were first reported by NPR, which released an extensive report in June that also raised broader questions about conditions at the facility that houses inmates with mental health issues.
According to the lawsuit, Givens suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling down a flight of stairs as a young child. It states that his intellectual and emotional development was limited to that of a 2nd or 3rd grade child and that he required assistance and supervision with daily functioning for the rest of his life. He also had Crohn’s disease, which sometimes caused him to shit on himself, according to the lawsuit, which alleges Givens became a “target of abuse by the defendant correctional officers.”
Hobbs said she was initially informed by a prison official that her brother, who had other underlying health conditions and had been ill recently, had died of natural causes. But about a week later, she received a call from a woman who said she had heard through another inmate that Givens had been beaten.
An autopsy report reviewed by AP determined that Givens’ cause of death was blunt force trauma to the torso and his manner of death was undetermined.
Attorneys for four correctional officers charged in the lawsuit with participating in the beating of Givens did not respond to emails or phone calls to comment on the lawsuit and the letter detailing the FBI investigation.
A lawyer for a fifth officer who was charged with negligence for failing to intervene did not respond to an email and phone call requesting comment.
All five have denied the allegations in their response to the complaint and none have been charged with a crime.
The Department of Corrections did not respond to emailed questions about the matter, including questions resubmitted last week and Monday.
According to the lawsuit, Givens had been incarcerated in Marion since shortly after pleading guilty to two felony counts in connection with the fatal 2010 shooting of Misty Leann Garrett. According to local news reports, Garrett, 22, had been employed as a home nurse for Givens’ mother.
The lawsuit and public records surrounding the case have raised broader questions about conditions at the facility, including the revelation that Givens and other inmates were, according to the complaint, hospitalized for hypothermia.
A special grand jury assembled last year that found Givens’ death “suspicious” said in a report that “nearly every witness” described living conditions in the prison sector housing mentally ill inmates as “unsuitable.”
“More than one witness had observed ice formation on the water in toilets. We find these conditions inhumane and deplorable,” the report said.
During the time Givens was there, he was taken to a hospital multiple times for what the lawsuit said were “injuries strongly suggestive of abuse and/or neglect by the correctional officer,” including an April 2018 incident for “sexual assault by hot tap water.”
And in the last year of his life, Givens was taken to the emergency room four times for hypothermia treatment, according to the lawsuit and medical records reviewed by the AP.
The hospitalization streak began in February 2021, when Givens was treated for “hypothermia” and “hypothermia,” the lawsuit says. His initial body temperature was 87.2 Fahrenheit (30.6 degrees Celsius), well below the normal body temperature of 97.6 to 99.6 (36.4 to 37.5 degrees Celsius). A hospital record states that Givens was “found on the cold concrete and hypothermic”.
On February 5, 2022, Givens was pronounced dead at the treatment center after what the lawsuit said was a beating in an off-camera shower room at the facility.