Suit says inmates’ bodies returned to family without hearts, and other organs

A federal complaint claims that the bodies of two individuals who died while detained in Alabama’s prison system were missing their hearts or other organs when they were handed to their families.

Brandon Clay Dotson’s family filed a federal complaint last month against the Alabama Department of Corrections and others, alleging that his corpse was rotting and his heart was gone when his remains were delivered to his family.

In a court declaration last week, the daughter of another deceased inmate, Charles Edward Singleton, stated that when her father’s body was returned in 2021, it was missing all of his internal organs.

Lauren Faraino, an attorney for Dotson’s family, said in an email Wednesday that the experience of other families demonstrates that this is “absolutely part of a pattern.”

The Associated Press reached out to the Alabama Department of Corrections for comment late Wednesday afternoon.

Suit says inmates' bodies returned to family without hearts, and other organs

Dotson, 43, was discovered deceased at Ventress Correctional Facility on November 16. According to the lawsuit, his family, suspecting foul play in his death, engaged a pathologist to perform a second autopsy and discovered his heart was missing. His family launched a lawsuit to learn why his heart was removed and to have it returned to them.

“Defendants’ outrageous and inexcusable mishandling of the deceased’s body amounts to a reprehensible violation of human dignity and common decency,” the complaint claims. It goes on to say that “their appalling misconduct is nothing short of grave robbery and mutilation.”

While looking for answers about what happened to Dotson’s heart, his family discovered that other families had had similar situations, according to Faraino.

Dotson’s family noted the problem with Singleton’s body in court records filed last week. The inmate’s daughter, Charlene Drake, states in the documents that a funeral parlor informed her that her father’s body was sent to them “with no internal organs” after his death while detained in 2021.

“Normally, the organs are in a bag placed back in the body after an autopsy,” she said, “but Charles had been brought to the funeral home with no internal organs.WBMA was the first to report on the court filing.

Last Monday, a federal judge heard arguments in the Dotson case. According to, the hearing produced no answers about the position of the heart.

Dotson’s family claimed in their lawsuit that the heart was kept during a state autopsy with the intention of donating it to the medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham for research purposes.

Attorneys for the university called that “bald speculation” and stated in court that the university did not perform the autopsy and did not receive any of Dotson’s organs.

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