WALKER COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) – His family thought prison might be the safest place for him. But two weeks after his family called the police for a welfare check and their loved one was subsequently arrested, Anthony “Tony” Mitchell was dead.
Mitchell died after two weeks in police custody, according to his family. A family member said Monday police told his loved ones last week that “his organs are being shut down and we are taking him to the hospital.”
Soon her loved one was dead, a family member said.
In a statement issued Monday to CBS 42, a representative for the Walker County Sheriff’s Office said Mitchell “underwent a routine medical evaluation” on Jan. 27.
“Medical staff determined that the inmate needed to be taken to the hospital for further evaluation,” the statement said, in part. Mitchell was “alert and conscious” when he left the Walker County jail, the representative said, but suffered a “medical emergency and was unresponsive” after arriving at the hospital.
In a telephone conversation, the sheriff’s office representative emphasized that the death did not occur at the Walker County Jail.
“The day ended with everyone safe”
Tony Mitchell’s recent interactions with Walker County law enforcement began on Jan. 13, according to a statement released on the sheriff’s office social media account.
“On Thursday, the Walker County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a concerned member of a Carbon Hill man,” the post said.
Law enforcement claimed that upon arriving at the scene, Mitchell “immediately drew a pistol and fired at least one shot at the deputies (sic) before retreating to a wooded area behind his home.”
After a search for Mitchell that included both airborne and K9 units, Mitchell was arrested and charged with attempted murder, according to police and court records.
“Luckily,” said the sheriff’s office guard, “the day ended and everyone was safe.”
The first and the last
In addition to the written statement, the Jan. 13 post from the Walker County Sheriff’s Office initially contained an unedited, full-body photo of Mitchell, whose face appeared to have been spray-painted black.
One of Mitchell’s family members said the photo shocked her.
“I hadn’t seen him in two years, and that was the first time I saw him — and the last time,” she said.
The photo, which has been shared hundreds of times on social media and across multiple news outlets, has met with significant public opposition from critics of the post’s “sensationalism”.
According to Facebook records, the sheriff’s office edited the post later that day and cropped the photo to hide Mitchell’s face.
“We thought that was the safest place”
Court records show that Mitchell was produced before a judge on the day of his arrest but was ruled “unable to sign papers” by court officials.
“We knew he was in prison and we thought that was the safest place for him at the time,” his family member said. “But it turned out to be the worst place for him.”
Officials with the Walker County Coroner’s Office did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication, but the Sheriff’s Office confirmed Mitchell’s death in a statement sent out Monday afternoon.
As in most Alabama counties, the local jail is operated by the sheriff’s office.
“On Thursday, January 27, an inmate at the Walker County Jail underwent a routine medical exam by the jail’s medical staff. Medical staff determined that the inmate needed to be taken to the hospital for further evaluation,” the statement said. “The inmate was awake and conscious when he exited the facility and arrived at the hospital. Shortly after arriving at the hospital, the inmate suffered a medical emergency and was unresponsive. Hospital staff performed life-saving efforts and the inmate was eventually resuscitated. Unfortunately, the prisoner died a short time later.”
The statement went on to say that since Mitchell’s death occurred while in police custody, the situation is being investigated by state police.
“It is currently unknown what contributed to his death,” the statement concluded. “Although the inmate’s death did not occur in prison, he was still in police custody, so standard protocol was followed and ALEA was contacted. SBI agents immediately launched an investigation into the incident.”
In a statement sent out after this article was first published, officials with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said they are conducting a “death in custody” investigation in Walker County. Once the investigation is complete, its findings will be turned over to the Walker County District Attorney’s Office, the state law enforcement officials’ statement said.