JASPER, Ala. (WIAT) — As the investigation into the death of Anthony Mitchell who died in the custody of the Walker County Sheriff’s Office continues, Nexstar affiliate CBS 42 is learning of another story of alleged neglect inside the Walker County Jail.
The family of Autumn Harris claims she was denied proper medical care while she was incarcerated in Walker County. Her family is suing the medical company that worked for the jail at the time of her death back in 2018.
The sheriff’s office now has new leadership and the company in charge of caring for inmates at the time of her death no longer is involved with the jail, but her father, Mike Harris said it simply doesn’t make sense. He wants to know how a young, healthy woman died of pneumonia after being in jail for three weeks.
“So I’m left here to speak for her. It’s for her justice, not mine. She can’t speak for herself so that’s what I’m doing,” Harris said.
Autumn Harris died Dec. 5, 2018, at the Walker County Jail.
“I don’t think they did anything for her. I think if anything had been done for her, she’d still be here today,” Harris said.
Autumn Harris was originally arrested in June 2018 for a theft of property charge. Her family’s lawyer Justin Jones told CBS 42 she was released on bond and set to appear in court again in August. Jones said she failed to appear for that hearing and the court issued a warrant for her arrest. On Nov. 13 she was arrested for failure to appear in court. Jones said her bond this time was revoked.
“Her and a friend of hers sort of got into an altercation but that’s what it was over, 40 bucks,” Harris said.
Her hearing was reset for Dec. 6. An autopsy report states three weeks after being booked into jail, the 34-year-old died of pneumonia, one day before her court date.
“Something’s got to be done because folks are being neglected at this county jail,” said Harris.
The autopsy also reports Harris’ lungs were riddled with infection and full of fluid. Her father, Mike Harris is a manager at Collins Burke Funeral Home in Jasper. He said this should have never happened.
“Her lungs were at the capacity of double, full of infection, sepsis. So, that’s why I know, in the profession I am, that they let her die,” Harris said.
Harris said the jail never contacted him to tell him about his daughter’s death. Instead, he said the coroner told him that morning when he arrived to work at the funeral home.
“Unfortunately, that morning, the bad news that he had to deliver it was for me to hear. It was devastating. It broke my heart,” Harris said. “I didn’t really think that I should have to call and you know ask them what happened to my girl. I already knew from the coroner. But I did expect a call from them just to let me know that they were concerned about somebody that they let die.”
On June 9, 2020 Harris filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Preemptive Forensic Health Solutions (PFHS), the medical company that was contracted through the sheriff’s office at the time of her death.
According to Jones, that company has since been replaced by Quality Correctional Health Care (QCHC).
Justin Jones of The King Firm in Jasper is representing Harris in the case. He said her medical condition was overlooked by medical staff.
“During the day on Dec. 1, she’s asking ‘I can’t breathe I need an inhaler’. She has a history of asthma. They tell her you don’t have an inhaler on file, there’s nothing we can do for you. This happens again on Dec. 2. ‘I need an inhaler I can’t breathe’. You don’t have an inhaler on file, nothing I can do for you,” Jones said.
According to court documents, the jail knew Harris had pneumonia when she was booked. Those records also note that she had medication for her illness when she arrived.
“From all that we can tell, no she did not receive it. There’s certainly no positive, affirmative evidence, as there absolutely should be in a medical setting, that she was given the medication,” Jones said.
Autumn Harris’ case isn’t the only one involving the Walker County Jail. Although the sheriff’s office was under different leadership at the time of Harris’ death, the sheriff’s office is currently facing a wrongful death lawsuit after the death of Anthony Mitchell on Jan. 26.
Harris said no family should have to go through this.
“My heart goes out to those folks because I definitely know what that mother is going through and it’s not a fun experience when something could have been prevented in both situations,” Harris said.
Jones said Harris’ case is just one of many cases involving the Walker County Jail that has many people questioning what goes on inside those four walls.
“It doesn’t take a lot to treat people with the dignity they deserve. In Autumn’s case, just a modicum of dignity would have sent her to the hospital, and she’d still be alive. That’s what I want people to know,” Jones said.
A protest was held over the weekend calling for justice for the Mitchell family. During that protest, people in the crowd carried signs and yelled the names of other people who died at the jail, including Harris.
“They have inherent dignity,” Jones said. “These are human beings that can feel the torment or the existential dread even of lying on the floor, alone, in the dark, asphyxiating to death. They feel that. They are one of us. And now Autumn isn’t,” Jones said.
CBS 42 reached out to PFHS, the company named in the lawsuit. As of the publication of this article, the company has not responded. The case is set to go to court on May 15.