On May 10, two Alabama correctional officers were arrested on charges connected to the death of Jason Kirkland in a segregation unit at Donaldson Correctional Facility near Birmingham, Alabama. Mr. Kirkland was 27 years old. He was serving a 15-year sentence for nonviolent offenses.
Donaldson correctional officers John Rodgers and Latasha Terrell were charged with criminally negligent homicide for failing to render aid to a mentally ill man who unnecessarily suffocated and died while they were on duty.
In the past 18 months, at least three people have died in segregated housing at Donaldson after officer neglect.
On December 7, 2020, Tommy Rutledge died in a solitary confinement cell where the temperature exceeded 100 degrees. His core body temperature was recorded at 109 degrees prior to his death.
On February 23, 2022, Victor Russo was found unresponsive in a segregation unit cell with blunt force trauma injuries. One day before collapsing, Mr. Russo had written a letter to the warden saying that a lieutenant at Donaldson had struck him repeatedly in the head and sprayed chemical agents in his mouth before placing him in segregation without medical attention. The officer, Lt. Mohammad Jenkins, was subsequently charged with assault.
Other prisoners have died after officers at Donaldson have used excessive force in responding to incidents.
In October 2019, Steven Davis, 35, died after he was struck repeatedly in the head by correctional staff. According to the Justice Department, “Numerous prisoner witnesses reported that correctional officers continued to strike the prisoner after he dropped any weapons and posed no threat.”
In June 2020, Darnell McMillian, 38, died in a suicide watch cell after a lieutenant sprayed a large volume of irritating chemical agents into the cell. Alabama Department of Corrections records confirm that after the use of force, Mr. McMillian was “non-verbal and unresponsive” and he was pronounced dead an hour later.
Although Jason Kirkland died in July 2021, the charges against Mr. Rodgers and Ms. Terrell were filed only two weeks ago. The officers continued to be employed by the Department of Corrections until they were arrested.
A lawsuit filed in December 2020 by the Department of Justice against Alabama and the state’s Department of Corrections alleges that the state “is deliberately indifferent to the serious and systemic constitutional problems present in Alabama’s Prisons.”
Despite the continuing crisis in Alabama’s prisons, no significant changes have been implemented to improve conditions or safety.