Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Two Alabama correctional officers were arrested on Tuesday and charged in connection with the April death of an incarcerated man at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility after he became stuck in the door to his cell, according to jail records and a source with knowledge of the incident.
Jason Kirkland, 27, died on July 5, 2021, when he became stuck in the door of his cell, according to reporting by Beth Shelburne, an investigative reporter for ACLU of Alabama Campaign for Smart Justice.
Kirkland’s autopsy report, obtained by Shelburne, stated he died from mechanical asphyxia after a correctional officer found him with his head and arm wedged in the tray slot on his prison cell door, Shelburne reported.
John Eddie Rodgers, 35, from Pleasant Grove was arrested Tuesday and booked into the Jefferson County Jail on a charge of criminally negligent homicide, according to jail records. He was released Tuesday on a $50,000 bond, according to those records.
Latasha Patrice Terrell, 37, of Birmingham was also arrested Tuesday and charged with Criminally negligent homicide and was released that same day on a $50,000 bond, according to Jefferson County Jail records.
An Alabama Department of Corrections spokesperson in an emailed response to APR on Friday declined to discuss the circumstances around Kirkland’s death, citing an ongoing investigation into the death.
The two were charged for allegedly failing to render aid when the man became stuck in the cell of his door and died on April 19, according to a source with knowledge of the incident.
APR hasn’t yet confirmed the circumstances of the death or identified the incarcerated man who died. Questions to the Alabama Department of Corrections on Wednesday weren’t immediately responded to. The story will be updated.
On Wednesday, the two charges weren’t yet showing in Alabama’s online criminal records database, but it can sometimes take days for charges to appear after a person is arrested.
“Rodgers and Terrell are currently on mandatory leave, pending dismissal proceedings,” the department spokesperson wrote in the response.
This death would make at least 16 preventable deaths – suicides, overdoses and homicides – in Alabama prisons so far this year, although that number could be higher. The Alabama Department of Corrections doesn’t typically release information to the public about deaths inside the state’s prisons, leaving it to journalists to track deaths through other means and get confirmation from the department.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s ongoing lawsuit against the state alleges Alabama fails to protect prisoners from violence, death, unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and if the state fails to respond to the federal government’s concerns adequately, the suit could result in court-ordered federal oversight of Alabama’s prison system.
Alabama’s prisons are overpopulated and understaffed, which is resulting in excessive violence and death, the federal government notes in the suit. Donaldson prison was at 153 percent capacity in March, according to the department’s latest statistical report.
ADOC has also underreported instances of homicides inside state prisons, misclassifying some and simply not reporting others at all, the DOJ notes in the lawsuit.