Three inmate deaths at Metro Jail in one month; why so many?

MCSO is investigating the most recent death that happened Tuesday night. Investigators say William Appling was found alone and unresponsive in his cell.
Updated: Jul. 26, 2023 at 5:30 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Three inmates have died in Metro Jail in the past month.

The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the most recent death that happened Tuesday night. Investigators say William Appling was found alone and unresponsive in his cell.

“He did have injuries from an assault previous to being arrested. And was treated in the ER for those injuries prior to coming to jail. We won’t have any more answers until an autopsy comes back. He was in a cell by himself and we don’t believe there was any foul play involved,” said Mobile County Sheriff Paul Burch.

Sheriff Burch says the high number of deaths is likely coincidental.

“One thing to keep in mind- I’ll say we had three deaths last year. People who find themselves incarcerated frequently don’t necessarily live the healthiest of lifestyles, so that’s always a contributing factor,” he said.

Exactly one month ago, Ernest Little Jr. was found unresponsive by his cell mates.

”There was a medical history there and we believe it to be a medical event but we’re not going to draw that conclusion until the autopsy report is complete,” said Sheriff Burch.

Then, on July 15, corrections officers found Terrell Moultrie unresponsive in his cell. Sheriff Burch says

“We believe there’s some kind of illicit drug involved based on the investigation,” said Sheriff Burch.

Sheriff Burch says they’re waiting on autopsy reports to confirm the cause of death for all three cases. He says autopsy reports can take months.

Still, Sheriff Burch says factors like illegal contraband and overcrowding can often play into inmate deaths.

“When you have a population of over 1600 inmates, which is currently where we are, different people- again- are in there for a variety of reasons. We do everything we can to take care of the inmates while we’re there. There’s positions on hand that see them, and nurses, but when you have that large of a population, things are going to happen,” Sheriff Burch stated.

But it’s not just a problem at the local level. Alabama Appleseed reports 270 deaths in Alabama state prisons in 2022.

“We see an enormous number of overdose deaths, it’s just incredible the amount of drugs and weapons that get into our prisons and we’re starting to see that in jails as well,” said Eddie Burkhalter, Researcher for Alabama Appleseed.

“Violence in Alabama’s prisons is rampant. What’s causing that, by large, is a lack of officers. We are woefully understaffed in our prisons,” added Burkhalter.

Right now, Sheriff Burch says his corrections officers work overtime.

“Better compensation would help attract more people and hopefully one day we won’t be so short staffed,” he said.

Regardless of the cause, Sheriff Burch says each death is thoroughly investigated. He says deputies always take death involving contraband seriously.

“We will conduct a criminal investigation just like we would if it were on the street,” said Sheriff Burch. “And our ultimate goal is to find out the source of that contraband and if we can identify that source, they’ll be charged with the death of that person. So that’s something we strive to do each and every time. We treat jail cases just like someone died at home.”

MCSO says 18 inmates have died in Metro since 2010. 15 of those were due to suicide or natural death, and again-they’re still waiting on answers for the three most recent fatalities.