Alabama Jail Officials Let Man to Freeze to Death in Cell, Lawsuit Alleges

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
February 24, 2023US News
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Alabama Jail Officials Let Man to Freeze to Death in Cell, Lawsuit Alleges
File photo of a gavel. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The family of an Alabama man is suing the Walker County Sheriff and county jail officials after he died in their custody.

In a federal civil complaint, the family of 33-year-old Anthony Don Mitchell said he froze to death at some point between Jan. 25-26 while being held inside the Walker County Sheriff’s custody. The lawsuit alleges jail authorities placed Mitchell in a restraint chair in the jail kitchen’s walk-in freezer or a similar frigid environment, left him there for hours, and then denied him “the prompt emergency medical treatment that would have saved him after his removal from that frigid place.”

Footage shared with AL.com purportedly showed sheriff’s deputies or jail officials carrying an unresponsive Mitchell to a Walker County Sheriff’s Office SUV. The footage is referenced in his family’s civil complaint. According to the complaint, Mitchell was taken to the Walker Baptist Medical Center where he was pronounced deceased.

“Tony’s internal body temperature was 72 degrees Fahrenheit when he arrived at Walker Baptist Hospital in the back seat of a sheriff’s vehicle on the morning of January 26, 2023, brought there by sheriff’s deputies who did not even bother to call an ambulance for him despite his obvious need for emergency medical treatment,” the lawsuit reads.

According to Dr. Timothy Jordan, the ER doctor on hand when Mitchell arrived at the hospital, Mitchell was “unresponsive apneic [not breathing], and pulseless, and cold to the touch.”

In a Jan. 30 statement shared with CBS 42, jail officials said Mitchell was “alert and conscious” when he arrived at the hospital but “suffered a medical emergency and became unresponsive” shortly after his arrival.

Mitchell Jailed After Psychotic Episode

Mitchell was taken into Walker County Sheriff’s custody on Jan. 12 after a psychotic episode.

Prior to his arrest, Mitchell had appeared to lose a lot of weight and, when visited by a family member, described how he had been searching for a box containing the remains of his stillborn brother and planned to send those remains through a portal to heaven.

The family member called the Walker County Sheriff’s office out of concern that Mitchell was experiencing a psychotic episode. As deputies arrived, Mitchell brandished a handgun and fired at least one shot in the direction of the deputies before fleeing into a wooded area behind his home. A SWAT team was called and Mitchell was eventually detained.

A photo of the arrest, shared by the sheriff’s office, showed Mitchell had his face painted black. According to the legal complaint, he had spray painted his face black in preparation for entering a portal to hell.

The complaint stated one of the defendants, Corrections Officers T.J. Armstrong, told the family member that once they caught Mitchell, they would give him (a) medical evaluation and treatment at the jail. Armstrong allegedly said “we’re going to detox him and then we’ll see how much of his brain is left,” or words to that effect.

While in jail, Mitchell was allegedly held in an isolation cell without furnishings. He was essentially left to sleep on bare cement. The civil complaint shared still images of Mitchell completely naked at the jail facility.

“In every video clip on which he appears during his incarceration, until deputies at last dress him in a jail uniform just prior to transporting him to the hospital on January 26, Tony appears completely naked,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also said Mitchell, as a result of past methamphetamine use and personal neglect, was reliant on a set of false teeth. The complaint alleges that on Jan. 15, while being tased, Mitchell’s false teeth fell out and were confiscated, leaving him with limited ability to consume solid food thereafter.

Whistleblower Retaliation

The lawsuit alleges an unnamed corrections officer at the jail preserved evidence from Mitchell’s stay at the county jail.

“Without the heroism of a corrections officer who dared to preserve security camera footage on her phone and get the recordings to the Estate, it would have been impossible for the Estate to dismantle the scheme of silence and lies within the Sheriff’s Department and reconstruct what happened to Tony on the morning of January 26, 2023,” the complaint states.

While the Mitchell family’s civil complaint, which was drafted by attorney Jon Goldfarb, did not name the corrections officer who preserved the jail records, Goldfarb is representing the corrections officer in a separate federal lawsuit alleging she is the victim of retaliation. According to that separate lawsuit, former Walker County Sheriff corrections officer Karen Kelly was fired for sharing video of Mitchell’s treatment inside the jail.

Kelly’s lawsuit claims she reviewed the jail security camera footage of officers placing an unresponsive Mitchell in the back of the police SUV on the morning on Jan. 26. She said viewing the footage weighed “heavy on her heart,” particularly after jail officials described Mitchell as having been “alert and conscious” on his way to the hospital.

The lawsuit said Kelly consulted with someone outside of her department about what had occurred. After she shared the video, it began to spread to members of the broader public. Kelly lost her job after admitting to recording the video and sharing it outside of her department.

NTD News reached out to the Walker County Sheriff’s Office but they declined to comment.

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