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Family Of Alabama Inmate Who Died Of Hypothermia Sues Sheriff’s Office, Jail Personnel

Walker County, AL – The mother of a Walker County jail inmate who died from hypothermia while incarcerated is suing the sheriff and multiple other individuals in connection with her son’s bizarre death.

Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith is named in the federal wrongful death lawsuit, as well as an investigator, a nurse, and a nurse practitioner, WBMA reported.

The 37-page lawsuit claims jail personnel left 33-year-old Anthony Don Mitchell in a facility’s walk-in freezer or a “similar frigid environment” for hours, depriving him of his constitutional rights and ultimately resulting in his death, according to WIAT.

“This is one of the most appalling cases of jail abuse the country has seen,” Mitchell’s family’s attorneys wrote in the filing. “On the night of January 25 to January 26, 2023, Anthony Don Mitchell (“Tony”) froze to death while incarcerated at the Walker County Jail.”

The incident “raises an appalling question,” the suit reads. “How does a man literally freeze to death while incarcerated in a modern, climate-controlled jail, in the custody and care of corrections officers?”

Mitchell’s family further alleged they believe he was “placed in a restraint chair in the jail kitchen’s walk-in freezer or similar frigid environment and left there for hours,” WIAT reported.

After removing him from the “frigid environment,” jail officials waited another five hours before transporting him to the hospital, the family’s attorneys claimed.

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) said in a statement at a jail inmate underwent “a routine medical check by jail medical staff” on Jan. 27 and it was determined he “needed to be transported to the hospital for further evaluation,” WIAT reported.

“The inmate was alert and conscious when he left the facility and arrived at the hospital,” the WCSO said. “Shortly after arrival at the hospital, the inmate suffered a medical emergency and became unresponsive. Life saving efforts were performed by hospital staff and the inmate was ultimately revived. Unfortunately, a short time later, the inmate passed away.”

The sheriff’s office’s account of what took place was called into question after a correctional officer leaked jail surveillance footage that showed uniformed personnel carrying Mitchell out into the loading area of the jail facility, WIAT reported.

It appears in the video that Mitchell was holding his head up as he was being carried out to the sallyport and while he was being loaded into the vehicle.

But Mitchell’s family alleges the footage contradicts the WCSO’s assertion that Mitchell was “alert and conscious” when he left the jail to go to Walker Baptist Medical Center.

According to the lawsuit, hospital staff spent more than three hours attempting to resuscitate Mitchell, WBMA reported.

“I am not sure what circumstances the patient was held in incarceration but it is difficult to understand a rectal temperature of 72 degrees F, 22 degrees centigrade while someone is incarcerated in jail,” the doctor’s notes read, according to WIAT. “The cause of his hypothermia is not clear. I do not know if he could have been exposed to a cold environment. I do believe hypothermia was the ultimate cause of death.”

The lawsuit alleged Mitchell spent two weeks inside a concrete isolation cell prior to his death, WIAT reported.

He spent at least a portion of that time naked, according to the filing.

Mitchell was most recently arrested on Jan. 13, after one of his family members asked police to conduct a welfare check on him, WIAT reported.

Investigators said his family told them they were worried he was suffering from severe drug addiction, malnutrition, and psychosis, according to WBMA.

Mitchell, a methamphetamine addict, had lost approximately 100 pounds in just three months, his family said.

They described him as appearing “haggard and emaciated” when he showed up at a relative’s home saying he needed to tear out a wall in the attic to find the body of his stillborn brother so he could place it in a portal to heaven that he also claimed was contained in the house, The Birmingham News reported.

Mitchell also told his family member there was a portal to hell inside the residence, according to the filing.

He had spray-painted his face black to help him enter the portal to hell, according to investigators.

The WCSO said that when deputies arrived at the scene, Mitchell “immediately” pulled out a gun and fired “at least one shot” at them before running off into a wooded area nearby, WIAT reported.

Law enforcement officers searched for the gunman by air and using K9 units and ultimately apprehended him without further incident, according to the WCSO.

Mitchell was subsequently charged with attempted murder, WIAT reported.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) is handling the ongoing investigation into Mitchell’s death.

WCSO Corrections Officer Karen Kelly said she was fired after she leaked the jail security footage to Mitchell’s family, The Birmingham News reported.

Kelly also provided other videos that allegedly showed Mitchell being abused by jail staff.

The now-former corrections officer is suing the WCSO and multiple individual members of the department, claiming she was wrongfully fired and that the agency retaliated against her, The Birmingham News reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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