This Is Among Worst Cases of Jail Abuse in US History: Suit

Family alleges Alabama man 'froze to death' while restrained in jail's walk-in freezer
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2023 11:42 AM CST
This Is Among Worst Cases of Jail Abuse in US History: Suit
An image of Anthony Mitchell's arrest.   (Walker County Sheriff's Office)

The family of an Alabama man who died in police custody alleges he "froze to death" after he was restrained for hours in a jail's walk-in freezer. Anthony Mitchell, 33, was held at the Walker County Jail for 14 days before he was taken to a hospital on Jan. 26 with a body temperature of 72 degrees. "It is difficult to understand a rectal temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit while someone is incarcerated in jail," but "I do believe that hypothermia was the ultimate cause of his death," an emergency room physician wrote in medical records cited in a lawsuit filed Monday by the family, per the Washington Post. Family members requested a welfare check on Jan. 12, saying Mitchell was delusional and in need of psychiatric help.

He was taken into custody on a charge of attempted murder after the sheriff's office said he "fired at least one shot at deputies before retreating into a wooded area." Alleging "one of the most appalling cases of jail abuse the country has seen," the suit claims Mitchell was "likely ... placed in a restraint chair in the jail kitchen's walk-in freezer or similar frigid environment and left there for hours" after spending two weeks naked in a concrete cell without a bed or other furnishings, per WIAT. "We do not at this time have video to confirm that" but "believe the sheriff's office has video showing exactly what happened to him," attorney William Smith tells the Post.

The family cites video footage showing officers carrying Mitchell's unconscious body into a police vehicle, which contradicts a sheriff's office statement claiming Mitchell was "alert and conscious" when he left the jail. Karen Kelly, a corrections officer who wasn't on duty at the time of the incident, found the security footage and recorded it on her cellphone. In a separate lawsuit filed Tuesday, she claims she was fired for speaking out about her colleagues' abusive actions in sharing the footage with her direct supervisor and a corrections officer at another agency. The family's suit claims some five hours passed from the time Mitchell was removed from the cold environment and transported to the hospital, per WIAT. (Read more inmate deaths stories.)

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