An Alabama man died in police custody after he was allegedly locked in a kitchen freezer as punishment, the man’s family says in its lawsuit against the police department.
Anthony Don Mitchell, 33, was arrested on January 12 after Walker County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) deputies received a call from a person identified as a concerned family member, who said Mitchell had been making statements indicating he could harm himself or others, WBRC reported. When deputies arrived at the scene, Mitchell was in the front yard and brandished a handgun at the deputies, according to the WCSO. He allegedly fired immediately at deputies and ran into the woods behind the home.
Multiple agencies worked to secure the area and eventually took Mitchell into custody, charging him with attempted murder. Deputies also said they found methamphetamine, heroin, and a handgun at the home.
Something happened while Mitchell was in police custody and was taken to the hospital. His family alleges that he faced “hours of neglect” and was locked inside a walk-in freezer “or similar frigid environment” in the jail’s kitchen as punishment for his behavior, WIAT reported.
The Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to WBRC that Mitchell had been taken to the hospital on January 26 and “became unresponsive at the hospital, where he was pronounced deceased.” Attorneys for his mother, however, released security camera footage from the jail showing officers carrying Mitchell’s body out of the facility to an awaiting vehicle. In the footage, Mitchell appears unresponsive.
“This is one of the most appalling cases of jail abuse the country has seen,” the 37-page federal lawsuit says, according to WIAT. “On the night of January 25 to January 26, 2023, Anthony Don Mitchell (“Tony”) froze to death while incarcerated at the Walker County Jail.”
Mitchell’s death, the complaint adds, “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 lawsuit also alleges 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.”
Mitchell’s treatment only came to light after a correctional officer released footage. Jon Goldfarb, the attorney representing Mitchell’s family, said that officer was later fired. Surveillance footage of his body being carried out of the jail was sent to local media outlets.
The video, WIAT reported, contradicted an earlier claim from the WCSO that Mitchell was “alert and conscious” when he left the jail for a local hospital.
“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,” an emergency room doctor wrote in notes, according to the 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.”
Additional surveillance video screenshots reportedly showed Mitchell was naked during his incarceration. His family’s lawsuit said he was kept in a concrete isolation cell, like “a dog kennel,” during his two weeks in custody.
“The cell lacked a bed or other furnishing,” the lawsuit says. “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.”
Mitchell’s death is being investigated by state police.