Shamirah Johnson’s death in a Florida jail remains a mystery.
Johnson, 29, was arrested on October 24 and held in Polk County Jail before being transferred to the Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center where she was pronounced dead.
There are many questions surrounding Johnson’s death – and, so far, there are few answers.
Here’s what we know: While serving time as an inmate in the Polk County jail, officials said Johnson’s blood pressure was high so she was placed under medical supervision and her blood pressure was monitored twice a day.
Johnson complained of not feeling well and was taken to the jail infirmary. She was then transferred to the Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center on Oct. 30 and died Oct. 31. A Florida medical examiner said autopsy results showed there was no evidence of trauma.
So why did Johnson die? What caused her death? If there was were no signs of trauma, why can’t investigators determine a cause of death one week after she died?
According to published reports, Johnson was arrested for probation violation. She had been sentenced in March to one year of probation for possession of prescription medication without a prescription, possession of marijuana, and possession of paraphernalia.
The sheriff’s office says Johnson had been in the Polk County Jail on 10 previous occasions from 2001 to 2017 for misdemeanors and felonies.
Johnson’s family wants and deserves answers. Johnson’s grandmother, Lola King, told The Ledger she wants more information about Johnson’s death before she can comment. Meanwhile, an internal inquiry has been opened and the Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigations is also investigating.
In 2014, according to The Ledger, “charges against Johnson for aggravated battery were dropped. In 2015, Johnson pleaded guilty to two counts of grand theft of more than $300, four counts of grand theft of dwelling of less than $300 and 14 counts of giving false verification to a pawn broker. She was sentenced to 13 months in jail.”
Johnson’s arrest and subsequent death comes as civil rights organizations have questioned racial disparities in the criminal justice system, particularly the rising number of African-Americans who are incarcerated for misdemeanor drug charges and non-violent offenses.
According to the NAACP, African-Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites and the imprisonment rate for African-American women is twice that of white women.
African-Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African-Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites. African-Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.
And according to Human Right Watch, “every 25 seconds in the United States, someone is arrested for the simple act of possessing drugs for their personal use.”
The Ledger also reported that Johnson had been active in the Florida community, attended New Bethel A.M.E. Church and volunteered more than 1,000 community service hours.
Johnson, a former prom queen, explained to The Ledger why she became involved in community service.
“It’s a way to keep me out of trouble,” Johnson said. “I like to see people my age focused on career goals and how to have a better life in the future.”
It appears that Johnson acknowledged that she wasn’t a model citizen, yet her death is still no doubt troubling and her family deserves to know why Johnson died at 29 years of age while in police custody.
What do you think?
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