Alabama Inmate 'Baked To Death' In Overheated Prison Cell

Lawsuit Alleges Alabama Inmate ‘Literally Baked To Death’ In Overheated, 130 Degree Prison Cell

A federal lawsuit filed against Alabama correction officials alleges that an inmate “baked to death” in an overheated federal prison cell.

According to CBS News, the incident occurred on December 7, 2020, at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility. Thomas Lee Rutledge, a 44-year-old inmate, was found unresponsive in a mental health cell. According to the lawsuit, Rutledge’s body had an internal temperature of 109 degrees.

The lawsuit, which was filed by his sister LaVentra Rutledge, names “prison staff, wardens, and contractors” as defendants.

The Prison’s Heating System

An amended complaint was filed on November 30, as reported by the outlet. According to the complaint, Rutledge “literally baked to death in his cell by excessive heat generated by the prison’s heating system.”

The lawsuit alleges that prison staff was aware of the problem with the heating system. According to BET, other male inmates died from extreme heat prior to Rutledge’s death.

According to the lawsuit, the weather on December 7, 2020, was mild. The outlet reports that temperatures that day reached a high of mid-40s Fahrenheit. And a low of 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

He was housed on a mental health ward, where inmates were confined to their cells around the clock, including eating and bathing in their cells. 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.

Rutledge’s autopsy report shared more light on the exact manner of the 44-year-old’s death. And how his body was found.

in his cell sitting near the window of his cell with his head/face out the window believed attempting to breathe/obtain cool/cold air.

According to BET, Rutledge’s area of the prison exceed 130 degrees.

The lawsuit also shares the experience of a corrections investigator who went inside the ward the same evening of Rutledge’s death. The investigator said that the area was “hotter than three hells.”

The investigator also compared the experience to pulling something out of an oven.

The Prison’s Heating Policy

According to BET, the prison’s Psychotropic Medications and Heat Policy requires that if temperatures rise to 90 degrees, inmates should be relocated to a cooler area. Additionally, prison staff should also offer inmates “fans, fluids, ice, and extra showers.”

The lawsuit was filed in February 2021. And alleges “cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.” It also seeks damages.

Since then, however, evidence logs from the prison’s boiler room have been “destroyed.” With the facility alleging it was due to a flood caused by a “burst water pipe.”

The U.S. Department of Justice V. The State

According to CBS News, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its own lawsuit against Alabama state last year. The lawsuit cites prison conditions and even mentions the hyperthermia death as an example of the “serious risks posed by dangerous conditions at Alabama’s prisons for men.”

The state seems to agree that there are improvements that need to be made to its prison structure. However, according to the outlet, it does not find its current prison conditions to be “unconstitutional.”

CBS News reports that the U.S. Department of Justice and the state are expected to go to trial in 2024.


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