GADSDEN, Ala. (WIAT) – An Etowah County family wants answers after their loved one died in jail from a suspected drug overdose in late April.
Family members of 22-year-old Will Sheppard said he was found unresponsive in his cell in the Etowah County Detention Center last week. Despite efforts to save him, Sheppard died.
“When the coroner came, they said that Will had apparently passed away from an overdose in his cell,” said Christianna Moore, Sheppard’s sister.
Moore said authorities suspected fentanyl, but the official cause of death will have to wait until results of an autopsy have been returned.
The Marshall County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation into what happened as an outside agency.
Sheppard’s family is devastated.
“Will was one of the most sweetest, kindest, just humble caring person,” Moore continued. “I just miss my whole family being together.”
Family members said Sheppard struggled with mental health and substance abuse in the past, but did not use fentanyl. They want to know how contraband could have made it into the facility.
“We were hopeful that at least while Will was in jail that he would be rehabilitated and get some kind of help that he needed and we never thought this would be the outcome or the end,” said Moore.
Etowah County Sheriff Jonathan Horton said the county has worked hard during his time in office to reduce ways for drugs to get inside.
“We have continuously replaced windows, added barriers. We’ve added two x ray machines,” said Horton.
The Sheriff cited national statistics pointing to a rise in overdose deaths at both state prisons and county jails. Despite the precautions, he said inmates adapt and staff members do their best to keep up and keep facilities safe.
“We do scan the correctional officers and all those that come into the facility, but just as a matter of practicality, if someone makes it through the scanner clean and they go to their unit and find a way to breach the wall in the middle of the night and bring something through it, then the x-ray machine did its job, but yet the contraband still entered the facility,” Horton said.
Horton said he’s talked to Sheppard’s family to offer condolences and understands their questions.
He said he will continue working to find ways to make improvements to the jail that is in the heart of Gadsden. Horton said the jail also has an ‘impact center’ to help inmates with substance abuse.
“I sympathize. I know substance abuse and mental health is a real thing, and we do the best that we can and we’ll continue to do and try to do as best and better,” said Horton, who spoke to family members Friday.
Sheppards family said they tried to get permission for him to be in rehab facility rather than jail, but said the request was denied by the courts.
They know their push for change won’t bring him back, but they hope it will help another family in the future.
“My mother’s hope is that another mother doesn’t have to bury her baby because of drugs inside of the jail where they are supposed to be getting help,” said Moore.
Another rally is planned Sunday May 8th outside the Etowah County Detention Center at 6 p.m.