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A lawsuit filed by the family of a deceased Alabama inmate allegedly sent home for burial without his heart has given way to potential class action from several more families who said their relatives’ organs were removed without their knowledge.
The initial December 2023 complaint, filed on behalf of Brandon Clay Dotson’s family, names as defendants the Alabama Department of Corrections, senior staff at the agency and the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Heersink College of Medicine, which conducts autopsies for the prison system. It’s where families suspect their loved ones’ organs were sent for educational and research purposes.
Despite the Dotson family’s demand in court for the “immediate return” of his heart, authorities have been unable to account for the organ for more than 70 days.
Since that filing, four more Alabama families have approached the Dotson family’s attorney, Lauren Faraino, saying their loved ones also had organs removed – in some cases, all of them.
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Simone Moore is pictured holding a bag allegedly containing his brother Kelvin Moore’s organs several days after his death on July 21. (Provided by Simone Moore)
Faraino said she believes the missing organs are “absolutely part of a pattern” as she works to build a class-action case against the DOC and school for unauthorized organ removal.
The family of Kelvin Moore, 43, doubts the DOC’s claims that their relative died of a fentanyl overdose. But after their family’s mortician informed them that the majority of his organs were missing, they were left with no means of verifying his cause of death.
Moore was on the phone with his mother just an hour before a prison chaplain at Limestone Correctional Facility called to inform her that he was dead, his brother told Fox News Digital.
When the family’s funeral director called UAB’s pathology lab to inquire about the organs six days later, he was allegedly told someone from the funeral home could come retrieve them.
Within an hour, the family said, the same prison chaplain called to ask whether their family would consider donating Moore’s organs.
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Kelvin Moore, who was 43 when he died at St. Clair Correctional Facility, died in July. He taught GED classes behind bars and was a prolific drummer before he was incarcerated, his brother told Fox News Digital. (Provided by Simone Moore)
“My brother said, ‘What do you not understand? We do not want to donate him,’” Simone Moore recalled. “We feel helpless knowing that they went in his body and removed his organs. That is the most barbaric behavior that anyone could go through. It’s repulsive, it’s disrespectful and we’re outraged.”
Simone Moore said that, unwilling to trust anyone else with the task, he and his sister retrieved Kelvin’s organs themselves from UAB’s facility and drove home with a heavy, red biohazard bag.
“We were driving with my brother’s vital organs – or it could be water, it could be socks. We don’t know, we didn’t open it,” an emotional Simone Moore said. “If we have to exhume his body, [they] would be there as they handed it to me.
“It is incomprehensible, inconceivable, that someone would go that far, to take their organs out of their body,” he continued. “Even if they had a reason — a biopsy or autopsy — why wouldn’t you put them back?”
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Brandon Dotson, 43, was found dead in his cell Nov. 21. His family did not receive his body for another five days and was unable to hold an open casket funeral due to “severe decomposition.” The man’s heart was allegedly missing from his chest cavity. (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama)
Moore comes from a Baptist family that is “under the auspices that whatever we come into this world goes back with us.”
Charlene Drake, whose sworn statement is included in court documents for Dotson, said that her incarcerated 74-year-old father, Charles Edward Singleton, was returned missing all his organs, except for his eyes, after his November 2021 death.
Despite numerous calls and voicemails to UAB’s pathology lab, she said under oath, her family was “never provided [with] an explanation of where his organs are.”
A third family from Tuscaloosa whose relative was also missing all of his organs has approached Faraino, she said. A fourth family, like Moore’s, also received organs back after requesting them. Faraino said they are awaiting results of DNA testing to determine whether they are the correct set.
Inmate Charles Edward Singleton, 74, was returned to his family devoid of organs with the exception of his eyes, according to his family. (Provided by Lauren Faraino)
Typically, forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden told Fox News Digital, organs are removed during the autopsy process and placed into the body cavity for burial. Inmates must be autopsied if they die behind bars, Baden said, unless a judge accepts a family’s objections to the process.
Dr. Baden said that, typically, only small samples of internal tissues are retained by coroners to conduct postmortem testing.
Faraino told Fox News Digital she “anticipat[ed] having to make [this] call with many families,” insisting that each one has “a right to know.”
UAB, which carries out many of the Alabama DOC’s postmortem examinations, previously told Fox News Digital it had “reviewed records which show that UAB … did not perform [Dotson’s] autopsy.”
The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences carried out Dotson’s autopsy and is also named in his family’s lawsuit.
However, according to Faraino, other inmates whose families have come forward were autopsied by the school on behalf of the DOC, and none of those inmates were organ donors.
The lawsuit cites an alleged recent history of the Alabama DOC providing “human organs and tissues” to medical students for “laboratory exercises.”
“Based on the numbers — we have the numbers of autopsies that have been completed by the university and the revenue that they make from the prison — there have to be dozens to hundreds of families impacted,” Faraino said.
“Even after he’s dead, you’re still robbing him of his dignity,” Simone Moore, Kelvin Moore’s brother, told Fox News Digital. “We were just crushed as a family.” (Provided by Simone Moore)
A group of medical students approached the school’s Medical Ethics Board in 2018 with concerns that an alarming percentage of organs used in pathology classes were coming from Alabama’s prisons.
A former UAB medical student, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said 13 of about 170 students in his class formed the group after noticing “an odd number of samples from incarcerated people in our teaching sessions.”
After bringing their concerns to their medical ethics professor, the students were asked to devise a presentation for an ethics board.
In response, the student told Fox News Digital, they were given a “pat on the head.” But, from that point forward, they said, far fewer details about the cadavers used for their pathology samples were shared by instructors.
“It is incomprehensible, inconceivable, that someone would go that far, to take their organs out of their body.”
Prison wardens are authorized to sign off on organ retention after Alabama prisoners’ autopsies, the board wrote in a decision letter on the group’s findings, and “no more than one-third” of the organs used in any given teaching session were sourced from inmates.
“They considered it offensive that we would suggest that a warden would not have the best interests of an Alabama inmate in their heart,” the student said. “We never took issue with the performing of the autopsy — that’s a clinical duty. We took issue with the retention of samples after that clinical duty was completed.”
In a statement to Fox News Digital, a university spokesperson said, “UAB only conducts autopsies after obtaining consent or authorization from the appropriate state official” and “is in compliance with laws governing autopsies.”
Regarding the student’s concerns, the spokesperson said they “were informed by inaccurate data and information,” which “was addressed directly with the students.”
“A panel of medical ethicists has reviewed and endorsed our protocols regarding autopsies conducted [on] incarcerated persons,” the university told Fox News Digital.
The Alabama Department of Corrections could not be reached for comment before press time.
“This is a problem that I’d imagine is going on in many places.”
In 2023, a record 325 prisoners died in the state, according to the Alabama Political Reporter, up from just seven people in a nine-month period in 2015, People reported.
The U.S. Department of Justice admonished the state’s prison system two years earlier for “incarcerating prisoners under conditions that pose a substantial risk of serious harm and death.”
Dr. Baden told Fox News Digital “this is a problem that I’d imagine is going on in many places,” citing several previous lawsuits.
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In the early 1990s, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s office was sued for removing brains from more than two dozen deceased people and sending them to the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school without familial consent. Thousands of families in the United Kingdom sued the country’s National Health Service for retaining their loved ones’ tissues and organs in 2009, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Christina Coulter is a U.S. and World reporter for Fox News Digital. Email story tips to [email protected].