North Alabama Man Died in Jail After Arrest for Unpaid Fines


On August 9, 2020, John Wayne Snider, 30, was arrested in Piedmont, Alabama, and placed in the city jail for not paying a fine. He died seven days later after jail officials refused to take him to the hospital for treatment, according to a lawsuit filed last month in federal court.

Britney Dixon, a critical care nurse and mother of Mr. Snider’s 13-year-old son, filed the suit as a representative of Mr. Snider’s estate. She told WIAT News that Mr. Snider, who grew up in Piedmont, was very family-oriented. After the birth of his son, she said, he was completely focused on his family. “We were his top priority,” she said.

But then he lost control of his car on an icy road near their home and hit a tree. He was severely injured, his legs and ankles broken. “He was basically completely physically disabled at that point, for probably three or four months of our life,” Ms. Dixon said. “There wasn’t really anything that he could do for himself.”

Mr. Snider became addicted to the medications he was prescribed to manage the pain. He racked up traffic tickets and minor charges in local courts and failed to appear in court for unpaid tickets, WIAT reports.

Shortly after he was placed in the Piedmont City Jail for not paying a fine, the lawsuit says, he began experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, including chest pain, tachycardia, lethargy, chills, and repeated vomiting. “By August 15, 2020, Snider was so weak and sick it would have been obvious to anyone that he needed medical treatment in a hospital,” the lawsuit alleges. “He just lay in the cell, not eating and barely drinking.”

The suit says then-police chief Freddy Norton and current chief Nathan Johnson (then a captain) were “deliberately indifferent” to Mr. Snider’s serious medical needs. Even after EMS personnel called to check him on August 15 recommended that he be evaluated and treated at a local hospital, the suit says, Norton and Johnson refused to send Mr. Snider to the hospital.

Mr. Snider would have lived if he had been sent to the hospital, the suit alleges. Instead, he died the next day, August 16, after suffering a cardiac event caused by a severe electrolyte imbalance.

In an answer filed last week, the City of Piedmont and the two individual defendants denied responsibility for Mr. Snider’s death. “Any injuries and damages” suffered by Mr. Snider, they wrote, “were caused by his own actions.”

John Snider didn’t deserve to die over an unpaid fine, Ms. Dixon told WIAT.

“The town we live in, you know, there are a lot of poor people,” she said. “And I understand that there’s consequences for everything. But I think that when it’s not something so serious, there should be a little bit more understanding, a little bit more of a compromise.” 

She told WIAT she hopes the lawsuit will prompt the city and its police to make more thoughtful decisions in the future.

“Nobody deserves to die in a city jail no matter what they’re there for,” she said. “But certainly not for something like that. I don’t think anyone deserved to be let to lay somewhere and just die.”