The family of Glenn Foster Jr., the former New Orleans Saints player found dead in the back seat of a police SUV two years ago, filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing sheriff's deputies in rural Pickens County, Alabama, of repeatedly torturing him after he was arrested following a traffic stop.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Birmingham, alleges that the defendants "tased, struck, beat and choked Mr. Foster," causing his death.
"Defendants' excessive and barbaric use of force violated Mr. Foster's civil rights," the complaint says. "Their actions robbed the Foster family of a son, father and husband."
Foster's family is suing Pickens County, the sheriff's office, the former sheriff, the county jail and several officers, claiming wrongful death, the use of excessive force and violation of Foster's civil rights.
A state autopsy report released last year concluded that Foster died of natural causes linked to hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
The lawsuit says police began abusing Foster immediately after he was arrested Dec. 3, 2021, and continued until he was found dead three days later.
Foster, who became a successful businessman after his NFL career was cut short by injury, was arrested for allegedly speeding and attempting to flee police. Authorities in Reform, a tiny city in Pickens County just west of Tuscaloosa, said they clocked Foster's black 2020 Jeep Wrangler going 92 mph in a 45 mph zone when they attempted to pull him over.
Police said Foster led them on an 8-mile chase that ended after they laid down spike strips to stop him. Police charged Foster, 31, with reckless endangerment and resisting arrest.
Immediately after Foster was apprehended, the suit says, a Pickens County sheriff's deputy wrestled him to the ground, slamming his head into the concrete. When emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene, they recommended that Foster be given medical and mental health checks, the suit alleges, but the request was ignored.
After Foster was booked into the Pickens County Jail sometime after midnight on Dec. 4, the suit says the Reform police chief contacted his family, who said they had concerns about his mental health. The chief and family agreed that Foster, who his family said had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder years earlier, should be transferred to a hospital for a mental health examination.
Later that night, jail officials called for EMS personnel to perform "a vitality check" on Foster, according to the suit. When they arrived at the jail, the suit says, they asked that Foster be immediately taken to a hospital for medical care, but the recommendation was refused.
The next day, Foster's family arrived in Pickens County and posted bail. But they soon learned that Foster would not be released because he faced a new set of charges stemming from an alleged fight with another inmate in which a jailer was slightly injured.
For more than 24 hours after that, the suit alleges, officers tortured Foster. The suit says that they stripped him naked, strapped him to a chair and tased him repeatedly before choking him unconscious.
The next day, when Foster was to be driven to a hospital for a court-ordered mental health evaluation, he appeared unresponsive, the suit says. As his legs hung outside the police car that was to take him to the hospital, officers allegedly forced him into the back seat by pushing him and yanking him by the neck in what the lawsuit describes as a "chokehold maneuver."
After the approximately half-hour ride to a hospital in Northport, in Tuscaloosa County, authorities found Foster slumped over, his skin discolored, and foaming from his nostrils and mouth, the suit says. Hospital personnel pronounced him dead at the scene.
The complaint does not offer any direct evidence for the allegations, which the family said sprung from an investigation by their lawyers, who include prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
Speaking from the steps of the federal courthouse in Birmingham where he was joined by Foster's family, Crump said, "We know there's video. The only question is: What happened to the video?"
Pickens County Sheriff Jordan Powell, who assumed his post earlier this year and is not named in the complaint, declined comment on the suit, saying, "We don't know anything about it."
The lawsuit, which asks for a jury trial and damages, was filed on the second anniversary of Foster's death. Alabama authorities have said little about the circumstances of his death, and his family disputes the state autopsy results and says he was a young man in top physical condition.
"We are not getting much, if anything, from them," his widow, Pamela Foster, told ESPN. "So, we basically have to do our own research. They are not forthcoming with information at all."
Sabrina Foster, Glenn's mother, added: "Glenn was my only son; he was my first child. To see his life wrongly taken away, it makes you question your own life. It makes you question God. It makes you question the integrity of people and mankind."
The Fosters also pointed to what they called a troubling pattern of police brutality in 20,000-person Pickens County, where three Black men have been killed by police or died in law enforcement custody since 2019.
Just this week, a police officer in Reform was placed on administrative leave after a video circulated showing her shooting a handcuffed Black man with a stun gun. State investigators are looking into the incident.
"There is a history here," Pamela Foster said. "Glenn was not the first, the second or the third person that they've murdered and covered up and gotten away with. We're trying to stop what happened to Glenn from continuing."
The Alabama State Bureau of Investigation initially probed Foster's death before turning its findings over to the Tuscaloosa County district attorney's office. A grand jury heard evidence but did not indict anyone on criminal charges, according to a local news report. The DA's office did not respond to requests for comment.
"Every entity that was involved with Glenn's death should be questioned," Sabrina Foster told ESPN. "He has an intelligent family. He has an attorney. You are not going to get away with this one."