By SARAH RANKIN and DENISE LAVOIE Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The FBI is looking into the death of an intellectually disabled inmate at a Virginia prison who’s been identified as “a possible victim of a crime,” the agency 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 Givens was “sadistically tortured” and beaten before being found unresponsive at the southwest Virginia facility.
“This case is currently under investigation by the FBI,” said an email from an FBI victim specialist addressed to an attorney for Givens’ sister. “A criminal investigation can be a lengthy undertaking, and, for several reasons, we cannot tell you about its progress at this time.”
The email was dated Sunday and 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 target of the apparent investigation.
Hobbs, who said the email marked the first correspondence she’d had with the FBI about her brother’s death, said she welcomed the development.
“I’m hoping somebody will actually do something,” she said.
Dee Rybiski, an FBI spokeswoman in Richmond, declined to comment, noting the agency does not usually confirm or deny the existence of investigations.
Hobbs’ lawsuit alleges her brother had suffered routine abuse at Marion before a last fatal encounter. Details of the suit were first reported by NPR, which published a lengthy 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 says that his intellectual and emotional development was limited to that of a 2nd- or 3rd-grade child and that he needed assistance and supervision with daily functioning the rest of his life. He also had Crohn’s disease, which caused him to sometimes defecate on himself, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that made Givens a “target of the Defendant correctional officers’ abuse.”
Hobbs said she was initially informed by a prison official that her brother, who had other underlying health conditions and had been recently ill, had died of natural causes. But around a week later, she received a call from a woman who said she’d heard through another inmate that Givens had been beaten.
An autopsy report reviewed by AP determined Givens’ cause of death was blunt force trauma of the torso and his manner of death was undetermined.
Attorneys for four correctional officers accused in the lawsuit of participating in beating Givens did not respond to emails or telephone messages seeking comment on the lawsuit and the letter describing the FBI investigation.
An attorney for a fifth officer accused of negligence for failing to intervene did not respond to an email and a phone message seeking comment.
All five have denied the allegations in their answer to the complaint and none has been charged with a crime.
The Department of Corrections has not responded to emailed questions about the matter, including queries sent last week and again Monday.
According to the lawsuit, Givens had been incarcerated at Marion since shortly after he pleaded guilty to two felonies in connection with the fatal 2010 shooting of Misty Leann Garrett. Garrett, 22, had been employed as a home health nurse for Givens’ mother, according to local news accounts.
The lawsuit and public records surrounding the case have raised broader questions about the conditions at the facility, including the disclosure that Givens and other inmates, according to the complaint, were hospitalized for hypothermia.
A special grand jury impaneled last year that found Givens’ death was “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 formed on the water in toilets. We find these conditions to be inhumane and deplorable,” the report said.
During Givens’ time there, he was taken to a hospital numerous times for what the lawsuit alleges were “injuries that are highly suggestive of correctional officer abuse and/or neglect,” including one incident in April 2018 for “assault by hot tap water.”
And in the last year of his life, Givens was taken to the emergency room four times for treatment of hypothermia, according to the lawsuit and medical records reviewed by AP.
The string of hospitalizations began in Feb. 2021, when Givens was treated for “hypothermia” and “hypothermic shock,” the lawsuit states. His initial body temperature was 87.2 Fahrenheit (30.6 Celsius), well below the normal body temperature of 97.6 to 99.6 (36.4 to 37.5 Celsius). A hospital admission record states that Givens was “found down on the cold concrete and hypothermic.”
On Feb. 5, 2022, Givens was declared dead at the treatment center after what the lawsuit alleges was a beating in an off-camera shower area of the facility.