An Alabama Man Was Taken to Jail. Two Weeks Later, He Was Dead From Hypothermia.
Tony Mitchell's death was a "direct and proximate result" of jail officers' "deliberate indifference or malice, and of their ongoing denial of Tony's constitutional rights under a scheme that continued to operate after his death," his family's suit states.
An Alabama man was taken into custody last month following a violent altercation with police. Two weeks later, he died from hypothermia, having seemingly been placed into the jail's freezer.
A lawsuit filed by the family of Anthony "Tony" Mitchell on Monday alleges that officers at a Walker County, Alabama, jail engaged in horrific abuse against the 33-year-old, eventually leading to his death.
"Tony's death of hypothermia was the direct and proximate result of these defendants' deliberate indifference or malice, and of their ongoing denial of Tony's constitutional rights under a scheme that continued to operate after his death through the issuance of false statements to family members and the media," the complaint alleges.
According to the complaint, on January 12, Mitchell's cousin called local police to request a welfare check after Mitchell, who had a history of mental health problems and drug addiction, began experiencing severe delusions. According to a social media post from police, Mitchell became violent, firing at least one shot at the officers before fleeing into a wooded area behind his home.
Mitchell was arrested and later charged with attempted murder. According to a local news station, officials noted that at a court appearance on the day of his arrest, Mitchell was "unable to sign" paperwork.
For the next two weeks, Mitchell would allegedly face an array of abuse while incarcerated in the Walker County Jail. According to the complaint, Mitchell was left completely naked during his two weeks in jail—apparently as part of the jail's "'suicide watch' protocol." Further, Mitchell was housed in an isolation cell in the jail's booking area. The lawsuit describes this as "the equivalent of a dog kennel": a concrete cell with no bedding and only a drain in the floor to be used as a toilet.
Further, the lawsuit states that Mitchell—who needed a set of false teeth to eat after losing all his teeth due to neglect and drug use—had his false teeth taken from him following a January 15 tasing incident, meaning the already malnourished Mitchell was unable to properly eat food.
"Tony continued to suffer from serious medical and psychiatric needs while incarcerated as a pretrial detainee at the jail," the lawsuit states. "These needs were obvious to every corrections officer and all jail personnel who came into contact with him."
On January 27, Mitchell's mistreatment seemed to take a turn for the worse. While it's difficult to know for sure what happened, the lawsuit states Mitchell was taken to a local hospital, where he registered an internal body temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The complaint notes that "the only way for Tony's body temperature to have 'started dropping' to 72 degrees in such a short period of time was for him to have been placed in a restraint chair in the jail kitchen's walk-in freezer or similar frigid environment and left there for hours."
While no videos have been released proving that Mitchell was placed in a freezer, Walker Country police have made multiple false statements about the incident. Soon after Mitchell's hospitalization, police claimed in a press release that "the inmate was alert and conscious when he left the facility and arrived at the hospital." However, surveillance video from inside the jail shows an unconscious and limp Mitchell being carried into the loading area of the jail. The lawsuit also alleges that one officer told Mitchell's cousin "that when deputies got Tony to the hospital, the doctor had asked Tony to sit up, and Tony had sat up, and that at this point, he had a massive heart attack." However, the doctor's notes indicate that Mitchell arrived unresponsive and that "there was never any purposeful movement or response to pain."
While it isn't precisely clear how Mitchell became hypothermic—though the lawsuit's assumption that he was subjected to a cold environment, like a freezer, is plausible—considerable abuse at the hands of Walker County police is obvious from the available surveillance footage. Instead of getting help to a man with severe mental health problems and substance addiction, police stripped him naked and left him in a bare concrete cell. And in their custody, he sustained the injury or illness that would later cause his death from hypothermia.
"Each of these corrections officers knows exactly what happened to Tony during that horrific night," the complaint writes. "Each of them was deliberately indifferent to his obvious serious medical needs. Each of them, at a minimum, failed to intervene in an act of horrific abuse committed by one or more of their fellow corrections officers."