Orange County Sheriff to Appeal ACLU Suit Ruling

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS)—Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes on May 27 said he would appeal a federal judge’s ruling requiring more efforts to combat COVID-19 in the county’s jails.

On May 26, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal granted certification in a class action lawsuit filed by inmates and their attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union that demanded more efforts to clean up the jails and provide more cleaning supplies to inmates, but denied a restraining order that would have granted the release of hundreds of inmates.

“While I appreciate that the court did not grant the ACLU’s request to release inmates into our community, I am disappointed that the court has ordered us to implement measures which are not mandated by law or regulation,” Barnes said.

“I have taken seriously the threat of COVID-19 in our jails. The department has implemented Centers for Disease Control guidelines in our facilities and in many instances have done more than their recommendations, long before this lawsuit was filed. We will be appealing the court’s order.”

Barnes on May 26 reported that 370 inmates have been infected with COVID-19, but 324 have recovered. Twelve inmates are sick and in medical isolation. Sheriff’s officials are awaiting results of 160 tests.

Bernal found fault with the sheriff’s department’s efforts to stem the tide of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, in the jails.

“As plaintiffs argued at the hearing, the numbers speak for themselves,” Bernal wrote in his order. “Defendants’ broad and unsupported claim of compliance is belied by the fact that there are 369 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the jail—up from only 26 confirmed cases less than a month ago on April 22, 2020.

“Assuming a current jail population of 2,826, the rate of COVID-19 infection at the jail is 12.4 percent. That number is astronomical compared to the rate of infection in the Orange County general population, which is about 0.14 percent. An individual incarcerated at the jail is nearly one hundred times more likely to get COVID-19 than the average resident of Orange County.”

Sheriff’s officials explained that the rising level of inmates infected with the virus was due to an increased rate of testing inmates.

However, Bernal found there has been no “dramatic surge in testing” and that the rate of testing “has remained relatively consistent since April 22, 2020, with the largest number of tests given on May 5, 2020—three weeks ago.”

Bernal denied a request to release “medically vulnerable and disabled” inmates.

“There are myriad risks of releasing incarcerated individuals without any consideration of crime committed, propensity to violence, or flight risk,” Bernal wrote.

“Concerns that released inmates would commit crimes is far from ‘speculative’—many of the individuals in the proposed class have committed or are charged with violent crimes.”

Bernal said some also represent a “flight risk” and that “a haphazard release of inmates could present a threat to public safety.”

Bernal ordered the sheriff’s department to provide 6 feet or more between inmates, and to educate them on the importance of social distancing. He also ordered the sheriff’s department to give inmates more personal cleaning supplies, including soap, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer.

The inmates should also get more access to daily showers, and the ability to launder clothes and sheets.

Jail workers must wear personal protective equipment, including surgical masks, and wash their hands more frequently. Bernal also ordered more temperature checks of staff and visitors.


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Author: City News Service