The Alabama Department of Corrections has classified the death of an incarcerated man in 2020 as a homicide.
Darnell McMillian, 38, was on suicide watch when he died on June 22, 2020, after correctional officers placed him in a cell with another inmate who was also on suicide watch.
According to two Alabama Department of Corrections workers who spoke to APR in 2020 and the Alabama Department of Corrections internal report, once McMillian was placed in the cell with the other man, a fight ensued and officers used pepper spray to break it up.
Despite both workers, who had worked with both of the inmates and the officers involved, telling APR in separate interviews that prison staff knew that the other inmate who fought with McMillian was violent and that no other inmates were to be placed in his cell, an ADOC spokeswoman explained to APR in a message that the officers who placed McMillian in the cell were cleared of any wrongdoing.
One worker told APR that the other incarcerated man “is a very volatile inmate. Very violent. Very big guy. You never put anybody in the cell with him.”
“The Department’s findings did not conclude that correctional officers failed to adequately protect McMillian during the incident,” ADOC spokeswoman Kristi Simpson wrote to APR.
According to a duty officer report obtained by APR in 2020, McMillian and the other inmate belonged to two different gangs. The report and the autopsy notes that officers heard McMillian complained of not being able to breath after the fight, and after officers deployed a pepper spray called Cell Buster into the cell.
The two workers told APR that officers used three cans of the spray in the cell, and said doing so would have been excessive, but the report states two cans were used.
McMillian’s autopsy report by the Jefferson County Coroner lists his manner of death as undetermined, and that he sustained a hemorrhage in the soft tissues of his scalp, blunt and sharp force traumas to the head and to his extremities, including several superficial cuts on his forearms “from decedent cutting himself.” A toxicology report shows Amphetamines and methamphetamines were detected n McMillian’s urine.
Daniel Atherton, associate coroner and medical examiner with the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office in the autopsy report wrote that although McMillian’s heart was not enlarged, he could have experienced a type of heart attack brought on by the fight, but that because it was unknown to what all the factors may have played in his death, the cause of death is best considered undetermined.
Simpson said ADOC has turned over the findings of the department’s investigation into McMillian’s death to the Jefferson County District Attorney for review.
The U.S. Department of Justice in 2020 filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama and ADOC, which alleged violations of inmates’ constitutional rights to protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence, sexual abuse and excessive force by prison guards.