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Lawsuit Alleges Man Froze To Death In Freezer Of Alabama Jail
Anthony Don Mitchell apparently lived with severe mental illness when booked into the Walker County Jail, where lawyers say he was subjected to "horrific, malicious abuse and mountains of deliberate indifference."
A federal lawsuit alleges that an Alabama man froze to death in county jail in what legal representatives call “one of the most appalling cases of jail abuse this country has seen.”
Lawyers representing the mother of Anthony Don “Tony” Mitchell, 33, filed a lawsuit against multiple law enforcement officials and medical personnel connected with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office on Monday, according to records reviewed by Oxygen.com.
John C. Goldfarb of the Wiggins, Childs, Pantazis, Fisher & Goldfarb law firm alleges multiple staff members at the Walker County Jail in Jasper, Alabama — about 40 miles northwest of Birmingham — caused Mitchell’s death by letting him freeze to death, but not before he spent two weeks living in “hellish conditions.”
When brought to an area hospital in the back of a patrol vehicle on Jan. 26, an emergency room physician noted that Mitchell had an internal temperature of 72 degrees (experts contend any body temperature below 95 degrees is dangerous).
An official cause of death by a medical examiner has yet to be determined.
“Without the malice, deliberate indifference, and failure to intervene of nearly a dozen corrections officers at the jail, and the cooperation of these officers and their superiors in a scheme to deprive Tony of his civil rights and ultimately of his life, Tony would have never been killed, likely by being placed in a restraint chair in the jail kitchen’s walk-in freezer or similar frigid environment and left there for hours.”
But while the lawsuit claims Mitchell’s death illustrated “the worst of humanity,” it also demonstrated “its best,” referencing the heroism of a corrections officer — now identified as Karen Kelly — who preserved and publicized video evidence of the alleged abuse.
On Jan. 12, Mitchell’s cousin, Steve Mitchell, alerted authorities after finding Mitchell at his Carbon Hill residence, where Mitchell lived “in complete isolation,” according to records. Mitchell — who reportedly had a history of drug abuse — allegedly held delusions that his stillborn sibling was behind the walls of his attic and that portals inside his residence led to heaven and hell.
Steve Mitchell told authorities that in recent months, Mitchell lost around 100 pounds and “was in serious need of psychiatric help.”
When deputies arrived at the Lost Creek Road address, Mitchell allegedly “brandished a handgun and fired at least one shot at deputies before retreating into a wooded area behind his home,” said the Walker County Sheriff’s Office on their Facebook page. He was arrested a short time later and subsequently charged with attempted murder and other drug and firearm offenses.
Photos cited to the sheriff’s office show Mitchell had allegedly spray painted himself black as part of his delusions, according to the lawsuit and multiple media outlets, including Fox Birmingham affiliate WBRC.
The sheriff’s office allegedly edited the photo to remove Mitchell’s face after receiving backlash about “sensationalizing” the incident, according to CBS Birmingham affiliate WIAT.
Mitchell was then booked into the county jail and allegedly housed in a “bare concrete isolation cell” without any clothes for the two-week duration between Jan. 12 and Jan. 26, according to the lawsuit.
“The cell lacked a bed or other furnishings. There was only a drain in the floor that could be used as a toilet,” according to the filing. “The cement, the equivalent of a dog kennel. But unlike a dog, Tony was not even given a mat to sleep on.”
On or around Jan. 15, corrections officers allegedly tased Mitchell, which “caused his teeth to pop out.” The denture was never returned, which lawyers say would have prevented him from eating solid food effectively.
Surveillance video allegedly shows a motionless Mitchell naked on the bare floor as multiple correction officers “can be seen clowning and laughing” by his cell, as shown in photos included in the lawsuit. At least three nurses allegedly saw Mitchell’s condition and failed to give him medical attention.
Lawyers believe Tony was left in a freezer or similar apparatus for an “extended amount of time” between Jan. 25 and Jan. 26 as “punishment” for allegedly shooting at officers at the time of his Jan. 12 arrest, leading to his hypothermic condition.
Mitchell allegedly “languished” for no less than five hours before he received attention.
On the morning of Jan. 26 — hours before Mitchell was pronounced dead — officers allegedly dressed Mitchell for the first time, as seen in screenshots published with the lawsuit. Officers then attempted to secure him in a wheelchair.
“Tony’s body falls out of the wheelchair outside the cell,” according to the lawsuit. “The deputies lift him back into it. Deputies can be seen shackling Tony’s feet as his body makes slow, seemingly spasmodic movements. Tony is still alive at this point.”
Lawyers claim, “Tony’s heart stopped before he arrived at the hospital and never restarted.”
Graphic video footage of the event was leaked online and published by multiple news outlets, including ABC Birmingham affiliate WBMA-LD.
“It is clear that Tony’s death was wrongful, the result of horrific, malicious abuse and mountains of deliberate indifference,” according to the lawsuit. “While Tony languished naked and dying of hypothermia in the early morning hours of Jan. 26 and his chances for survival trickled away, numerous corrections officers and medical staff wandered over to his open cell door to spectate and be entertained by his condition.”
Legal representatives accuse officers of not informing medical personnel of his hypothermic condition, which would have altered the doctors’ course of treatment.
They also accuse the sheriff’s office of releasing false statements to the press that Mitchell was “alert and conscious” when transported to the hospital.
The lawsuit references the woman who blew the whistle on Mitchell’s death, though they did not release her name. However, she has identified herself as Karen Kelly, and she is also now suing the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, per WIAT.
“She publicized a video of the abuse leading to the death of an inmate named Anthony Mitchell, so the horror of his death was not buried with him,” according to her lawsuit. “When the sheriff learned Kelly had exposed the crimes of his department, he retaliated and fired her.”
In the wake of the allegations related to Mitchell’s death, many have come forward to accuse the department of multiple alleged incidents of abuse. In the lawsuit by Mitchell’s mother, lawyers name other victims accusing law enforcement officers of inflicting “unnecessary and sadistic harm” upon inmates, including punching and sexual assault.
Mitchell’s mother is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury.
The Walker County Sheriff’s Office has not publicly addressed the claims surrounding Mitchell’s death.