An Alabama man was taken into custody last month after a violent confrontation with police. Two weeks later, he died of hypothermia, apparently from being placed in a prison freezer.
A lawsuit filed Monday by the family of Anthony “Tony” Mitchell alleges that officers at the Walker County, Alabama, jail engaged in horrific abuse of the 33-year-old, eventually leading to his death.
“Tony’s death from hypothermia was the direct and proximate result of these defendants’ deliberate indifference or malice, and the continued denial of Tony’s constitutional rights under a scheme that operated after his death by making false statements to family members and the media,” the complaint alleges.
According to the complaint, on Jan. 12, after Mitchell’s cousin called local police to request a welfare check, Mitchell, who had a history of mental health issues and drug addiction, began experiencing severe hallucinations. According to a police social media post, Mitchell became violent, firing at least one shot at 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 his court appearance on the day of his arrest, Mitchell was “unable to sign” papers.
For the next two weeks, Mitchell allegedly faced various abuses while incarcerated in the Walker County Jail. According to the complaint, Mitchell was kept completely naked during her two weeks in jail — apparently as part of the jail’s “‘suicide watch’ protocol.” Further, Mitchell was placed in an isolation cell in the jail’s booking area. The lawsuit describes it as the “equivalent of a dog kennel”: a concrete room with no beds and just a drain in the floor to use as a toilet.
Further, the lawsuit states that Mitchell—who needed a set of false teeth to eat after losing all of her teeth due to neglect and drug use—had her false teeth taken from her after the Jan. 15 tasing incident, meaning the already malnourished Mitchell was incapacitated. . Eat properly.
“Tony suffered from serious medical and mental illness while incarcerated as a pre-trial inmate at the jail,” the lawsuit states. “These needs were obvious to every correctional officer and all prison staff he came into contact with.”
On January 27, Mitchell’s misbehavior seemed to take a turn for the worse. While it’s hard to know for sure what happened, the lawsuit says Mitchell was taken to a local hospital, where he registered an internal body temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The complaint states that “the only way Tony’s body temperature could begin to drop to 72 degrees in such a short period of time was to place him in a restraint chair in the jail kitchen’s walk-in freezer or in a similarly cold. Environment and hours kept there.”
Although no video has been released proving that Mitchell was placed in a freezer, Walker Country Police have made multiple false statements about the incident. Shortly 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 led into the prison’s loading area. The suit also alleges that an officer told Mitchell’s cousin that “when the deputies took Tony to the hospital, the doctor told Tony to sit down, and Tony sat up, and at this point, he had a massive heart attack.” However, the doctor’s notes indicate that Mitchell arrived unresponsive and had “no purposeful movement or response to pain.”
While it’s not clear exactly how Mitchell became hypothermic—though the lawsuit’s assumption that he was subjected to a freezer-like cold environment is reasonable—substantial abuse at the hands of Walker County police is evident from available surveillance footage. Instead of getting help for a man with serious mental health problems and drug addiction, the police stripped him and left him in an empty concrete cell. And while in their custody, he sustained injuries or illnesses that would later lead to his death from hypothermia.
“Each and every one of these corrections officers knows exactly what happened to Tony that fateful night,” the complaint reads. “Each of them was willfully indifferent to his obvious serious medical needs. Each of them, at a minimum, failed to intervene in acts of horrific abuse committed by one or more of their fellow correctional officers.”