Alabama Inmate “Baked To Death” In Prison Cell, Federal Lawsuit States
On December 7th, 2020, Thomas Lee Rutledge died of hyperthermia while serving time as an inmate at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama. According to a lawsuit filed by his sister, Rutledge was found unresponsive in a mental health cell and had an internal temperature of 109 degrees. According to NBC News, an amended complaint filed on November 30th claims that Rutledge “was literally baked to death in his cell by excessive heat generated by the prison’s heating system.”
“He had dreams of obtaining his freedom, joining his mother in Alaska, and starting a new and productive life,” the complaint said.
Prior to Rutledge’s death, an HVAC company “negligently or wantonly damaged or destroyed the thermostatic controls” for the unit he was in. After the controls had been disabled, the temperature of the water in the boiler, that is used to heat the air, became unregulated. Many inmates stuffed clothing into vents in order to prevent the hot air from overheating their cells, which was not enough for Ruthledge, who was on a medication with side effects that prevented him from regulating his body temperature properly.
The plant maintenance supervisor had known that the thermostat’s controls had been destroyed, causing the unit to overheat, but did not take the proper steps to rectify it. He did, however, destroy the logs containing the boiler’s temperatures.
Rutledge had initially been sentenced to life in prison for offenses he committed in 1995, when he was minor. A recent Supreme Court decision ruled that life sentences for underaged offenders were unconstitutional. Had he survived his time in the correctional facility, he would have become eligible for release in 2024.