A man in Walker County, Alabama, has frozen to death after allegedly being tied to a cold room in a jail for days. This emerges from a lawsuit filed by the family of the deceased, according to US media. The relatives referred to their allegations on surveillance videos that were passed to them by a prison officer. The recordings, which show, among other things, the loading of the limp body of 33-year-old Tony M. for transport to a hospital, contradict the official police information on the man's fate.
The Walker County Sheriff's Office issued a statement four days after the inmate's death, claiming the man was "awake and conscious" when he left prison. Only when he arrived at the hospital did he suffer a medical emergency.
According to police, Tony M. was taken into custody after a member of his family asked the authorities to check on his well-being. The family feared the 33-year-old, who had recently lost his father and was a drug addict, posed a danger to themselves or others. He told his cousin that his stillborn little brother was in the attic and that there were portals to the afterlife in the house. While the officers were on site, M. fired at them with a gun and was then arrested for attempted murder.
M. was held in the Walker County Jail for 14 days beginning Jan. 12, according to the complaint filed Monday in the US District Court for Northern Alabama. On January 26, the 33-year-old was taken unconscious in the back seat of a police car to Walker Baptist Medical Center. When he arrived, his body temperature was only 72 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the equivalent of 22.2 degrees Celsius. An emergency room doctor tried to revive him for three hours and then pronounced him dead.
"I'm not sure under what circumstances the patient was incarcerated, but it's difficult to understand a rectal temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit when someone is incarcerated in prison," the doctor wrote in his medical notes. "I don't know if he could have been exposed to a cold environment, but I believe hypothermia was the ultimate cause of his death." The normal human body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius.
It is "probable" that Mitchell was placed in a restraining chair in a walk-in cold room in the prison kitchen or other cold environment and left there for hours, the lawsuit reports. "Based on the information we have received, we believe it was the prison's freezer or cold storage room, but we have no video footage to confirm this at this time," the Washington Post quoted William Smith, the attorney for the prison Family. "We believe the sheriff's office has video showing exactly what happened to him."
According to NBC News, the lawsuit filed by the deceased's mother is accompanied by screenshots from the detention center's surveillance videos. A picture taken at around four in the morning on the day he died shows Tony M. lying naked on the cell floor with the door open. Prison staff were standing in front of the door and seemed to be talking to each other. Video taken later that morning, which the family's attorney said it was provided to NBC News, shows correctional officers dragging a motionless M., dressed in prison uniform, without a stretcher to a sheriff's SUV. There they leave his limp body on the floor for several seconds before placing him in the back seat of the car.
"In every video clip of him being incarcerated until officers finally put him in a prison uniform just before taking him to the hospital on January 26, Tony is completely naked," NBC News quoted the lawsuit as saying.
The recordings were made public by a corrections officer at the county jail. The woman was not on duty at the time of Tony M.'s death, but heard rumors about his deteriorating physical condition when she returned to work, the Washington Post writes. In order to find out the "truth", the officer checked the surveillance camera recordings and filmed with her cell phone how Tony M. was carried to the police car.
After the footage surfaced on social media on February 8, Walker County Sheriff's Office officials questioned the woman. She then explained that she had passed the footage to her line manager and to a correctional officer from another law enforcement agency, but to no one else, and only to "tell the truth about what [...] really happened ".
The woman was released two days after the interrogation. In the meantime, she too has sued the authorities and is demanding reinstatement and damages.
Sources: Washington Post, NBC News