RALEIGH COUNTY, WV (WVNS) –The family of a North Carolina man whose body was found in the Rhodell area of Raleigh County in August are the latest plaintiffs in a growing federal lawsuit against Southern Regional Jail.
William “Dustin” Bowen, 24, was admitted to Southern Regional Jail on a domestic battery charge on May 7, 2022, according to his family’s attorney, Robert Dunlap. His skeletal remains were found on August 2, 2022, in a wooded area of Rhodell, near Tommy Creek Road, less than a month after his July 7, 2022, release from Southern Regional Jail.
Dunlap said Bowen’s case demonstrates a need for reform in the services and treatment the criminal justice system provides to mental health patients. Dunlap said Bowen, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was from North Carolina, where he was receiving solid mental health care services.
According to Dunlap, Bowen came to West Virginia to visit a relative earlier in 2022, and Bowen’s mental health began to deteriorate. A family member called the police when Bowen was having an acute mental health episode that the family believed would have required short-term medication and behavioral modification.
Dunlap said Bowen was eligible for a mental hygiene warrant in Raleigh County, which could’ve resulted in the young man being committed to a short-term stay at a local psychiatric ward. Instead, he was taken to Southern Regional Jail, where Dunlap said, jail staff admitted him.
Prime Care Medical of West Virginia, a private company contracted by the West Virginia Department of Corrections, to provide health care to inmates, was responsible, under state code, to treat Bowen’s mental illness.
Prime Care, which is named in a federal lawsuit Dunlap and three other attorneys have filed against the jail in United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, left the jail when the contract with the state ended.
Wexford Health Source of Pittsburgh, PA began providing care for Bowen on July 1, 2022, according to one of the attorneys in the lawsuit.
Dunlap alleged the two companies failed to give Bowen adequate treatment.
Southern Regional released Bowen on July 7, 2022.
Under state code, West Virginia Department of Homeland Security Chief Deputy Counsel Morgan Switzer explained jails update the release of inmates on the website, in an online notification system that was designed to give victims and the public notification of when a prisoner is released. Under the same system, any member of the public, including family members of the incarcerated, are able to request that jail staff send a text or call, to notify them of an inmate’s release date.
There is no system in place that specifically allows family or friends of inmates to be notified when they are released and may need transportation.
Dunlap stated that Southern Regional’s policy of release is harsh. He alleged the jail forces inmates to leave immediately, wearing inappropriate clothing and without money.
“There’s no account of any family member being contacted that his release was impending, and no one can say exactly what happened to him. As we’ve become aware, the Southern Regional Jail has a policy of whatever you happen to be wearing, whether it’s three in the morning, and you’re in your pajamas, or whatever the weather happens to be, you leave Southern Regional Jail for that quarter mile walk to the convenience store at the end of the road, without money to contact your family, without the jail contacting family. You’re sort of just released out in the wild, and, hopefully, someone is kind enough to show compassion on you, when you reach that convenience store.”Robert Dunlap | Robert Dunlap & Associates, PLLC
Dunlap said the family believes Bowen, who was unfamiliar with West Virginia, did not have money or his medication.
His skeletal remains were found in a wooded area of Rhodell, around a 35-minute ride from Flat Top, on August 2, 2022, after the family and Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office had launched a public search for him.
Authorities reported on August 4, 2022, that foul play was not suspected.