A fence
Representation. A prison fence. vero_vig_050/Pixabay


  • The man's family alleged in a lawsuit that it was "one of the most appalling cases of jail abuse"
  • Surveillance footage showed the man's head and feet dangling as he was carried out of the jail
  • Police earlier claimed that the man was "alert and conscious" when he left the jail for transport to a local hospital

The family of a Walker County, Alabama, man who died in police custody in January alleges that authorities left him in the local jail's walk-in freezer "or similar frigid environment" for hours.

Anthony "Tony" Mitchell's mother filed a federal lawsuit against multiple jail officials, including Sheriff Nick Smith, alleging that authorities deprived her son of his constitutional rights.

In the 37-page federal lawsuit, obtained by The Hill, lawyers for Mitchell's family alleged that the 33-year-old man "froze to death while incarcerated at the Walker County Jail" on the night of Jan. 25 to Jan. 26.

The family's lawyers described as "one of the most appalling cases of jail abuse the country has seen."

Lawyers wrote in the complaint that the case "raises an appalling question: how does a man literally freeze to death while incarcerated in a modern, climate-controlled jail, in the custody and care of corrections officers?"

The suit alleged that 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."

Jon Goldfarb, a lawyer representing Mitchell's family, said that what happened to Mitchell only came to light following the release of an internal surveillance video recorded by a correctional officer, who was later fired by the sheriff's department.

The surveillance video obtained and initially reported by local news outlet WIAT showed what the family says appears to be Mitchell being carried into the loading area of the Walker County Jail.

In the footage, Mitchell is limp, his head and feet dangling as uniformed personnel — "Sheriff" displayed on one of their vests — lay his body just outside a marked police SUV. A total of four uniformed officials then worked together to put him into the police vehicle.

The video contradicted an earlier statement from the Walker County Sheriff's Office claiming that Mitchell was "alert and conscious" when he left the prison for transport to a local hospital.

The lawsuit quoted notes included in Mitchell's medical records written by an emergency room doctor after Mitchell was transported to a local hospital on the day of his death.

"I am not sure what circumstances the patient was held in incarceration but it is difficult to understand a rectal temperature of 72° F 22° centigrade while someone is incarcerated in jail," the doctor's notes read, according to the federal lawsuit. "The cause of his hypothermia is not clear. It is possible he had an underlying medical condition resulting in hypothermia. I do not know if he could have been exposed to a cold environment. I do believe that hypothermia was the ultimate cause of his death."

There were also screenshots from additional surveillance video, which showed that Mitchell was naked during his detention. He was placed in a concrete isolation cell for the duration of his two-week stint in the jail, the suit alleged.

"The cell lacked a bed or other furnishing," the suit said. "There was only a drain in the floor that could be used as a toilet. The cell was bare cement, the equivalent of a dog kennel. But unlike a dog, Tony was not even given a mat to sleep on."

The family's lawyer called on the sheriff's office to release all videos of Mitchell's stay in the jail.

Mitchell died in police custody on Jan. 27, state and local officials later confirmed.

Mitchell's recent interactions with Walker County law enforcement started on Jan. 13, when family members asked police to conduct a welfare check on him. According to law enforcement, when they arrived on the scene, Mitchell allegedly "immediately brandished a handgun, and fire at least one shot at Deputies (sic) before retreating into a wooded area behind his home."

Mitchell was then arrested and charged with attempted murder, according to police and court records.

In addition to their initial written statement, the Jan. 13 post by the Walker County Sheriff's Office included an unedited, full-body photo of Mitchell, whose face appeared to be spray-painted black.

The photo was shared multiple times across social media as well as news outlets, sparking criticism over the "sensationalism" of the post. According to Facebook records, the sheriff's office edited the post later that day, cropping the photo to exclude Mitchell's face.

Court records showed that Mitchell was brought before a judge on the day of his arrest but was listed as being "unable to sign" paperwork by court officials.

"We knew he was in jail, and we thought that was the safest place for him at the time," one of Mitchell's family members said. "But it turned out to be the worst place for him."

A prison fence
Representation. A fence outside of a prison. ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay