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Alabama Inmate “Baked to Death” in Sweltering Prison Cell, Lawsuit Alleges

Other inmates were known to have died as a result of the heating system.

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Image for article titled Alabama Inmate “Baked to Death” in Sweltering Prison Cell, Lawsuit Alleges
Screenshot: Alabama Department of Corrections (Fair Use)

A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Thomas Lee Rutledge, a former Alabama prison inmate who died after being subjected to extreme heating in his cell, per a report from AL.com. Family members and advocates have long been fighting for the human rights of Alabama inmates after the egregious prison conditions were revealed.

Rutledge’s manner of death is merely one example.

An updated complaint was filed in US District Court two weeks ago alleging Rutledge, 44, died of hyperthermia in December 2020. But how could someone die of hyperthermia when their complaints are about extreme heat? His lawyers argued the officials at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility disregarded the issue with the heating system in the mental health section. Per the suit, other men had died from extreme heat due to the broken heater, causing them to “bake to death” as they claimed occurred in the case of Rutledge.

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One corrections investigator, Clark Hopper, recalled the unbearable temperature in the room when he once went to speak to Rutledge.

“When he dropped his (meal door), it was, it was just, pardon the language, but it was hotter than three hells when it dropped,” he said, per the report.

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Read more from AL.com:

The suit says Rutledge was found on December 7, 2020, with a body temperature of 109 degrees, “in his cell sitting near the window of his cell with his head/face out the window believed attempting to breath/obtain cool/cold air,” according to an autopsy which deemed his death an accident. Rutledge’s attorneys argue it was not an accident.

The lawsuit was first filed in federal court on Feb. 21, 2021, on behalf of Rutledge’s estate and his sister LaVentra Rutledge. It alleges cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and seeks damages. The case is before Judge R. David Proctor in Alabama’s Northern District.

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This isn’t the first complaint about the extreme heat. The lawsuit cites multiple complaints by the director of Mental Health Services at the facility and multiple inmates about the temperatures a year before Rutledge was found dead. Yet, nothing was done.

Literal horror stories have come out from Alabama prisons by the inmates themselves. Starvation, strenuous work conditions, overcrowding and now overheating make it seem as though the inmates are being subject to one huge cruel and unusual experiment on ways to kill someone.

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The Department of Justice has since brought a case before Judge Proctor in concern of these conditions. Families have been waiting years now for the case to be heard.