Qiana Johnson, Harriet鈥檚 Wildest Dreams鈥 co-founder and conductor of legal defense, is working to combat resident deaths in the D.C. Jail. (WI File Photo/Anthony Tilghman)

Since the beginning of the year, the D.C. Corrections Information Council (CIC) has reported at least five resident deaths at D.C. Jail, including that of a Black woman who died during Mother’s Day weekend under circumstances that haven’t been publicized.听

As grassroots organizers coalesce around demands for transparency, and ultimately the abolishment of pretrial detention, at least one person has hinted at the possibility of legal action to be taken against the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC).听

鈥淭hey鈥檙e not monitoring people on the whole for their mental health and drug habits,鈥 said Aleta White, a D.C. resident and family member of someone who died while in DOC custody.

Giles Daniel Warrick

As explained in a DOC document obtained by The Informer, a guard conducting a resident count and security check at D.C. Jail鈥檚 Central Treatment Facility (CTF) on the morning of November 19, 2022, found Giles Daniel Warrick, in his cell hanging from a sheet tied around his neck, with the other end attached to a metal locker. 

After the guard, ranked as a corporal, called for reinforcements, jail staff, along with Unity Health medical staff, attempted lifesaving measures. Less than an hour later, Dr. Robert Holman, medical director at D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services declared Warrick dead. 

Warrick, White鈥檚 family member, was 63. 

The document, compiled by DOC鈥檚 Office of Investigative Services (OIS), said that Warrick was one of 32 residents in his unit at the CTF. Each resident had their own cell, and only one officer was assigned to the entire unit, with officers changing shifts in eight-hour increments. 

Though OIS found that responding DOC staff and Unity medical staff adhered to DOC policy, a redacted portion of the report that calls into question, based on housing unit surveillance cameras, along with statements and documents collected, elements of DOC鈥檚 day-to-day operations. 

White said she had similar questions. 

鈥淚 don鈥檛 know how often the mandatory counts are done at D.C. Jail but if no one hadn鈥檛 laid eyes on him, he would鈥檝e missed [at least] three counts,鈥 White said. 鈥淭hat screams incompetence.鈥 

At the time of his death, Warrick was gearing up for to stand trial for his alleged role in a murder and series of rapes that took place in the D.C. metropolitan area throughout the 1990s. The DOC report showed that Warrick had bouts of depression and sleeplessness related to the case at least since the latter part of 2022. 

D.C. Jail officials said that Warrick denied having thoughts of suicide throughout his comprehensive medical health assessments, the latest of which took place two months before his death. 

As shown in the report, Warrick was prescribed Benadryl. 

White said that such a response didn鈥檛 suffice, telling The Informer that the death of a son she shared with Warrick exacerbated his depression. She alleges that jail officials acted negligently and continue to do so with impunity. 

Last spring, White reserved her right to file a lawsuit. She’s currently working through her attorney to secure information from DOC about the circumstances around Warrick’s death. Those efforts, she said, have been fruitless due to DOC鈥檚 insistence that she make such demands through an estate established in Warrick’s name. 

White has since issued a call to the families of other deceased D.C. Jail residents to join this cause. 

鈥淚n light of the other deaths since then, it鈥檚 obvious that [D.C. Jail officials are] not taking it seriously. They haven鈥檛 done anything to change the conditions of the jail for anyone,鈥 White said, going as far to question whether the guards truly adhered to a mandate of 30-minute check-ins on cells. 鈥淭hey鈥檙e not monitoring people on the whole for their mental health and drug habits. How can you do mandatory counts and not do documentation?鈥 

Five DOC Residents Dead Within This Year 

Since Warrick鈥檚 death, CIC has reported at least nine resident deaths, five of which took place this year.  

Out of those five, three happened in May. 

On the afternoon of May 11, jail personnel found Sheena Weatherspoon unresponsive in her cell at CTF. Weatherspoon, a 39-year-old resident of Takoma Park, Maryland, was being held on a Virginia fugitive of justice charge from D.C. Superior Court.听

The Informer unsuccessfully attempted to gather comment from one of Weatherspoon鈥檚 family members. 

On the morning of May 16, a male resident was found unresponsive in his cell. Days later, on the morning of May 24, jail personnel found a male in D.C. Jail鈥檚 Central Detention Facility under similar circumstances.   

A DOC spokesperson said the agency confirmed one D.C. Jail resident death as an overdose. The manner and cause of the other deaths, they added, would be determined by the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. 

The spokesperson cited the jail鈥檚 zero-tolerance contraband policy for residents, visitors and staff under which a staff member was arrested and convicted and three visitors barred from entry last year. Strategies to mitigate the circulation of drugs in facilities, as told by the spokesperson, include regular searches, advanced screening technology, and intelligence gathering. 

D.C. Councilmember Brooke Pinto (D- Ward 2), who鈥檚 responsible for oversight of DOC through her chairmanship of the council鈥檚 Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, didn鈥檛 respond to an inquiry about steps her office is taking to further inquire about the recent deaths, or whether the issue could be solved through the Fiscal Year 2025 budget. 

Earlier this year, the D.C. Council approved the Secure D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act which had, among its provisions, permanent pretrial detention for adults and juveniles who commit violent offenses or have a record of doing so. The council built that provision upon its expansion of pretrial detention through emergency legislation last summer.听

For years, members of counted among those who have organized pretrial detention, calling it a mechanism that endangers marginalized people and further interrupts their lives. Through their Court Watch program, Harriet鈥檚 Wildest Dreams, in partnership with and , trains community members to observe and take notes about local court proceedings.听

The goal, as explained on Harriet鈥檚 Wildest Dreams鈥 website, centers on holding judges and other parties accountable to those who are experiencing adjudication. 

Qiana Johnson, Harriet鈥檚 Wildest Dreams鈥 co-founder and conductor of legal defense, modeled Court Watch DC after Court Watch PG, which she, a returning citizen, organized with other formerly incarcerated women under their organization Life After Release. 

Johnson said that, through their efforts, Harriet鈥檚 Wildest Dreams sets out to prevent incidents like what鈥檚 taken place at D.C. Jail over the last several months. In the coming days, organizers will pen a letter to Pinto demanding that she pressures DOC into taking action. 

鈥淭he D.C. Council is really allowing people to die on their watch,鈥 Johnson said. 鈥淚f the jails don鈥檛 have the staff and what they need to keep people safe, then they should let people go home.鈥

She emphasized the urgency of the issue.

 鈥淚t鈥檚 a public safety concern. It breaks up families,鈥 Johnson continued. 鈥淭he truth of the matter is that the resident is no longer the person鈥檚 family member. They鈥檙e government property.鈥

Sam P.K. Collins has nearly 20 years of journalism experience, a significant portion of which he gained at The 番茄社区app. On any given day, he can be found piecing together a story, conducting...

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