The family of Robert Harris, a 35-year-old former Mobile Police officer who died in custody at the Washington County Jail, recently filed a federal lawsuit against Washington County Sheriff Richard Stringer and an unnamed detention officer.

Harris was arrested in June 2022 after allegedly walking frantically in the street and asking the responding police officers to kill him. Police deployed a taser and fired gunshots during the encounter, none of which hit Harris. He then fled the scene in his vehicle before crashing into a local store before being detained. Less than a week later, Harris was found dead in his Washington County Jail cell.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Bakari Sellers and Chuck James, claims Harris was strapped to a chair where he was beaten by detainees and left for dead in his cell. The suit claims Harris was denied medical attention for the beatings and died soon after.

Danita Harris, Robert Harris' mother, said his arrest came due to a mental health crisis which they attempted to receive treatment for.

"Robert was a good man but he was in pain," she said. "We tried to get him evaluated by a psychiatrist. We tried to get him sent to a hospital. But the Sheriff said no. Instead they tied him to a chair and beat my son to death."

"Nobody deserves to die like that," Sellers said. "We want transparency and we want justice. I'd hope Sheriff Stringer would join us in that."

The lawsuit also details "troubling and inhumane conditions" at the "overcrowded and understaffed" Washington County Jail. The complaint details instances of cells left unlocked where nonviolent detainees are mingled with violent offenders with little to no supervision.

"This isn't some isolated incident," James said. "This is an ongoing and increasing pattern of behavior at this jail and within the Washington County Sheriff's Office where violence and neglect isn't just allowed, it's encouraged. Unless we stop it now, it's only going to get worse."

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