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Man died after not being given water in jail for nearly 3 days, family says

Walker County Jail in Jasper, Ala. (Google Maps)
6 min

For more than 70 hours in late January, Anthony Mitchell wasn’t given any water in his jail cell, according to a recent lawsuit.

Mitchell, a 33-year-old pretrial detainee at the Walker County Jail in Alabama, had asked jailers for water and held a cup up to his window, the lawsuit says. But over nearly three days starting on Jan. 23, the corrections officers who came to Mitchell’s cell allegedly did not offer him any water until he was too weak to drink.

He was left in his cell, dehydrated and in “frigid temperatures,” according to the lawsuit.

Overnight, Mitchell became hypothermic, and by the time officers took him to a hospital on Jan. 26, his body temperature was 72 degrees, his mother alleges in the complaint. Mitchell died that day, after two weeks of incarceration “under horrendous conditions” at the jail, the complaint states.

Mitchell’s mother, Margaret Mitchell, filed the wrongful death lawsuit last month against the Walker County sheriff and the sheriff’s department officers and medical staff who were “deliberately indifferent” during his incarceration.

Jon Goldfarb, an attorney for Margaret Mitchell, filed an amended complaint with the court this week, providing more details about Anthony Mitchell’s incarceration and death and adding Quality Correctional Health Care, the jail’s health-care provider, as a defendant. He said Margaret Mitchell wants “the world to know what happened to her son.”

“What we’re trying to do is get these institutions to treat these people like humans as opposed to animals,” Goldfarb told The Washington Post.

Officials at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, which the lawsuit says employs the corrections officers, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Quality Correctional Health Care, which is contracted to provide medical services at the jail, denies that its two employees were deliberately indifferent, said LaBella McCallum, an attorney for the agency and the staff members.

She added that the staff members cited in the complaint followed protocol while Mitchell was at the jail.

Mitchell, who lived in Carbon Hill, Ala., was a beloved son and brother. According to the lawsuit, he’d lived with his father until last year. After Mitchell’s father died in August, he “spiraled into worsening drug addiction” and experienced physical and mental health issues, the lawsuit says.

On Jan. 12, Mitchell arrived at his cousin’s home. He’d lost a significant amount of weight and was “spouting delusions,” according to the lawsuit.

His cousin called 911. When officers arrived, Mitchell brandished a gun and fired at least one shot, the lawsuit says, citing the Walker County Sheriff’s Office. Shortly after, he was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

As he awaited trial, Mitchell stayed in an isolation cell.

Starting on Jan. 12, he was usually given three meals per day, but the food bag did not come with beverages or utensils, according to the complaint. His cell also did not have a bed or sink, only a drain for excretion, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that in two weeks at the facility, Mitchell was taken to use the shower or bathroom only six times.

“The cell is bare cement, the equivalent of a dog kennel,” the lawsuit states.

On Jan. 15, a corrections officer used a Taser on Mitchell in his cell, according to the complaint. As he fell to the ground of the cell, the fake teeth Mitchell wore — and needed to eat solid food — popped out. The teeth were collected and put in a property bag that was not given back to him, the lawsuit alleges.

The document adds that Mitchell did not receive treatment by medical personnel after he was stunned by the Taser.

Mitchell had an initial medical visit when he was booked into the jail on Jan. 12, but “no medical personnel physically examined him, took vital signs, or administered medication to Tony until the early morning hours” of Jan. 26, the day he died, the lawsuit says.

Jailers gave Mitchell a gown to wear on Jan. 21, the last day he was outside his cell, according to the complaint. The last cup of water Mitchell had before the day he died was brought to him by a corrections officer on Jan. 23.

Over the following days, he had an “obvious weakened state and obvious need for hydration” but wasn’t given any water, though officers interacted with him, the document says. It adds that by Jan. 25, Mitchell, who was “already stressed by dehydration from receiving no water for over two days,” became hypothermic because of how cold his cell was, wearing nothing but the gown.

Early in the morning of Jan. 26, officers went to Mitchell’s cell. One of them took a cup of water — the first Mitchell had been offered in more than 70 hours — but he was “too weak from dehydration and hypothermia to sit up and drink the water,” the lawsuit states.

His vitals were taken around 4 a.m. and, according to the complaint, one of the medical staff members wrote in a note that “inmate needs to be sent out to ER, due to dehydration.”

Hours later, officers took Mitchell to the hospital in the back of a sheriff’s department SUV. The lawsuit states that those on call that day “failed to summon an ambulance,” despite Mitchell’s “serious need for immediate emergency medical treatment.”

Quality Correctional Health Care contends that its employees did request ambulance transfers for Mitchell. The transfers are managed by the county, Quality Correctional Health Care said in a statement Thursday.

“Ambulance transfers have to be managed by the County as it controls when an inmate is ready to be transferred and when a jail officer is available to accompany the inmate for security reasons,” the statement said, adding that “the nurses can only recommend a transfer which they did.”

At the hospital, the physician who treated Mitchell wrote a note saying that it was “difficult to understand” his temperature of 72 degrees, remarking that “I do believe that hypothermia was the ultimate cause of his death,” according to the lawsuit.

Medical staff at Walker Baptist in Jasper, Ala., tried for more than three hours to resuscitate Mitchell, until his mother arrived and requested they stop, according to the complaint. He was pronounced dead that afternoon.

“Nobody deserves to be treated that way,” Goldfarb said.

The lawsuit requests a trial by jury.