An Alabama inmate “was literally baked to death,” in his jail cell, according to a federal lawsuit that has been filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Alabama .
The cell’s temperature was from 101 to 104 degrees when the man was found unresponsive by jail staff at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer. The inmate’s internal temperature was at 109 degrees, according to the suit.
Thomas Lee Rutledge died Dec. 7, 2020, of what was labeled as hyperthermia, according to authorities with the Alabama Department of Corrections. Rutledge had been confined to the mental health ward.
An investigator in the case came to the prison the night after Rutledge’s death. The investigator in an interview said when he opened one of the cell’s doors to speak to another inmate, the cell was, “hotter than three hells” and it was similar to “when you are getting something out of the oven and it hits your face.”
The lawsuit, filed by the man’s sister, states that prison staff knew about the heating problems in the mental health unit and did not take action to fix it.
“His death was the direct result of the deliberate indifference or malice of the prison officials, corrections officers, and maintenance personnel at Donaldson, and of the negligence and/or wantonness of the contractor entities,” the suit reads.
The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit of its own, citing prison conditions in Alabama. In it, the department used the death of Rutledge as an example of the dangerous and poor living conditions. The lawsuit is set to go to trial in 2024.
The state of Alabama has admitted there are challenges in the state’s prison system but disagrees with the DOJ’s claim that prison conditions are unconstitutional.
Austen Shipley is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News.