WALKER COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — The video, his family said, was difficult to watch.
The internal surveillance recording obtained by CBS 42, which lasts just over a minute, shows what the family says appears to be their loved one, Anthony “Tony” Mitchell, being carried into the loading area of the Walker County Jail. Mitchell is limp, his head and feet dangling as uniformed personnel — “Sheriff” emblazoned on one of their vests — lay his body just outside a marked police SUV. In total, four uniformed officials then work to put him into the police vehicle.
The video contradicts an earlier statement from the Walker County Sheriff’s Office claiming Mitchell was “alert and conscious” when he left the jail for transport to a local hospital.
T.J. Armstrong, the public information officer for the sheriff’s office, refused to comment on the situation, referring all inquiries to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), which is investigating the death. ALEA had not immediately responded to questions about the video as of publication time.
Jon Goldfarb, a lawyer for Mitchell’s family, said Wednesday that the family believes that all video of their loved one captured by the Walker County Sheriff’s Office should be released to the public.
“If the Sheriff does not have anything to hide, then all the videos of Mr. Anthony Mitchell should be preserved and released to the public,” the lawyer said in part. “He was obviously not ‘alert and conscious’ when he left the Walker County Jail.”
Mitchell, 33, died in police custody on Jan. 27, state and local officials later confirmed.
Tony Mitchell’s recent interactions with Walker County law enforcement began on Jan. 13, when family members asked police to conduct a welfare check on Mitchell, according to a statement from the Walker County Sheriff’s Office released at the time.
Law enforcement claimed that when they arrived on scene, Mitchell “immediately brandished a handgun, and fire at least one shot at Deputies (sic) before retreating into a wooded area behind his home.”
After a search for Mitchell that included both air and K9 units, Mitchell was arrested and charged with attempted murder, according to police and court records.
“Thankfully,” the sheriff’s office post said, “the day ended with everyone safe.”
In addition to their initial written statement, the Jan. 13 post by the Walker County Sheriff’s Office included an unedited, full-body photo of Mitchell, whose face appeared to be spray-painted black.
One of Mitchell’s family members said that the photo shocked her.
“I hadn’t seen him in two years, and that was the first time I’d seen him — and the last,” she said.
The photo, which was shared hundreds of times across social media and in multiple news outlets, garnered significant public pushback by those criticizing the “sensationalism” of the post.
According to Facebook records, the sheriff’s office edited the post later that day, cropping the photo to exclude Mitchell’s face.
Court records show that Mitchell was brought before a judge the day of his arrest but was listed as being “unable to sign” paperwork by court officials.
“We knew he was in jail, 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 Sheriff’s Office did not initially respond to questions about Mitchell’s death, but after CBS 42 reported the story of the death in police custody, the sheriff’s office released a statement about the situation. As in most Alabama counties, the local jail is operated by the sheriff’s office.
“On Thursday, January 27th, an inmate in the Walker County Jail was provided a routine medical check by jail medical staff. Medical staff determined the inmate needed to be transported to the hospital for further evaluation,” the statement said. “The inmate was alert and conscious when he left the facility and arrived at the hospital. Shortly after arrival at the hospital, the inmate suffered a medical emergency and became unresponsive. Life saving efforts were performed by hospital staff and the inmate was ultimately revived. Unfortunately, a short time later, the inmate passed away.”
The statement went on to say that because Mitchell’s death occurred in police custody, the situation is being investigated by state police.
“It is unknown at this time what contributed to his death,” the statement concluded. “Even though the inmate’s death did not occur in the jail, he was still in police custody, so standard protocol was followed and ALEA was contacted. SBI agents began an immediate investigation into the incident.”
In a phone conversation, a representative of the sheriff’s office emphasized that the death did not occur in the Walker County Jail.
In a statement sent after CBS 42’s initial report, officials with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said they are conducting an “in-custody death investigation” in Walker County. Once the investigation is completed, its findings will be handed over to the Walker County District Attorney’s Office, the agency said.
ALEA has not yet responded to requests for comment on the surveillance video.