Montgomery, Alabama — A federal lawsuit against Alabama corrections officials accuses an inmate of being ‘cooked to death’ in an overheated jail cell two winters ago.
Thomas Lee Rutledge died of hyperthermia on December 7, 2020 at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer. Rutledge had an internal temperature of 109 degrees when he was found unresponsive in the mental health cell according to the lawsuit, which was filed by his sister and names prison staff, guards and contractors as defendants.
Rutledge “was literally cooked to death in his cell by the excessive heat generated by the prison heating system,” according to an amended complaint filed November 30. the death.
The Alabama Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The weather on the day of Rutledge’s death was mild with outside highs in the mid-40s Fahrenheit and lows around 30, according to the lawsuit.
“He was housed in a mental health ward, where inmates were confined to their cells 24 hours a day, including eating and washing in their cells. His death was the direct result of willful indifference or malice prison officials, prison officers and maintenance personnel at Donaldson, and the negligence and/or gratuity of the contracting entities,” the lawsuit said.
He added that an investigator who was on the ward that evening after Rutledge’s death commented in a recorded interview that when he opened a tray door to speak with another inmate, it was “warmer than three hells” and felt like “when you (are) taking something out of the oven and it hits you in the face.”
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state over prison conditions and cited death from hyperthermia in a filing last year as an example of the “serious risks posed by dangerous conditions in prisons.” Alabama men’s prisons”.
Although Alabama has acknowledged the challenges in its prison system, it disputes the Justice Department’s assertion that the conditions are unconstitutional. The DOJ lawsuit is expected to go to trial in 2024.
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