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73-Year-Old Charged With Airport Trespassing Dies In Custody

Authorities say Abonesh Woldegeorges had been warned before about staying in D.C.-area airports without a ticket, so when police spotted the 73-year-old at Reagan National Airport on Aug. 13, they charged her with trespassing and took her to the Arlington County Detention Center. She was still being held there two weeks later, when she collapsed and ultimately died, the Washington Post reports. Leaders with the NAACP Arlington Branch said the Aug. 27 incident raises questions about jail officials’ ability to handle those in their custody, noting a string of deaths at the detention in recent years, as officials in multiple jurisdictions sought to explain Monday why Woldegeorges had been held so long on various misdemeanor offenses. “We have three main questions,” Michael Hemminger, president of the NAACP Arlington Branch, said in a statement. “One: Why was Ms. Woldegeorges, a 73-year-old woman suffering from mental illness, held in the jail for so long for such petty charges. Two: Why is Arlington County criminalizing homelessness? Three: Why do these incidents at the jail exclusively impact people of color?”

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner did not give a cause of Woldegeorges’s death Monday. Arlington Commonwealth’s attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti said the Arlington County Police Department is investigating the matter, adding that her office would closely follow detectives’ work. Dehghani-Tafti expressed her “sincere condolences to Ms. Woldegeorges’s family.” Arlington Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood, whose office represented Woldegeorges, said Arlington has a broken behavioral health infrastructure, in which social programs aimed to help people in crisis are not given the resources needed to be successful. “When you have people who don’t have beds to sleep in, you find them sleeping in the airport or the Metro, and it’s considered trespassing,” he said. “Then it ends up in the sheriff’s lap.”


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