The mother of Anthony “Tony” Mitchell, a Walker County man who died in police custody in January, has filed a federal lawsuit against multiple jail officials, including Sheriff Nick Smith, alleging that authorities deprived the man of his constitutional rights by leaving him in the jail’s walk-in freezer “or similar frigid environment” for hours.
“This is one of the most appalling cases of jail abuse the country has seen,” the 37-page federal lawsuit begins. “On the night of January 25 to January 26, 2023, Anthony Don Mitchell (“Tony”) froze to death while incarcerated at the Walker County Jail.”
The case, lawyers for the family wrote in the complaint, “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 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.”
Only with the release of an internal surveillance video recorded by a correctional officer did what happened to Mitchell begin to come to light, according to Jon Goldfarb, a lawyer representing Mitchell’s family.
A surveillance video obtained and first reported shows what the family says appears to be their loved one being carried into the loading area of the Walker County Jail. In it, Mitchell is limp, his head and feet dangling as uniformed personnel — “Sheriff” emblazoned on one of their vests — lay his body just outside a marked police SUV. In total, four uniformed officials then work to put him into the police vehicle.
The video contradicts an earlier statement from the Walker County Sheriff’s Office claiming Mitchell was “alert and conscious” when he left the jail for transport to a local hospital.
The newly filed lawsuit also includes quotes from notes included in Mitchell’s medical records written by an ER doctor after the Walker County man was transported to a local hospital 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 said, according 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.”
Screenshots from additional surveillance video included in the lawsuit show 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 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.”
At least five hours passed from the time Mitchell was removed from the “frigid environment” until he was transported to the hospital, according to the complaint.
“If the Sheriff does not have anything to hide, then all the videos of Mr. Anthony Mitchell should be preserved and released to the public,” the lawyer said in part. “He was obviously not ‘alert and conscious’ when he left the Walker County Jail.”
Mitchell, 33, died in police custody on Jan. 27, 2023. Which was completely uncalled for, considering his family first contacted the Police to perform a welfare check on him because they were concerned. Instead of getting him medical attention even though he was living outside at the time of his arrest, they locked him away in a cold room to die. We have no idea if he could’ve been saved because they didn’t even give him a chance.