Complainants Threaten New Suit On Behalf of COVID Victims in County Jail



A group of Individuals — including several well-known activists and representatives of such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union — have served notice on Sheriff Floyd Bonner and Shelby County government at large that they are on the brink of further legal action on behalf of local jail inmates suffering from, or at risk of, COVID-19.

The group has already filed one suit seeking release of such inmates, resulting in a hearing conducted last week by U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman, who has not yet ruled on the matter. The new action is in the form of a demand letter — a de facto ultimatum — promising to take further legal action “to assert the detainees’ rights to reasonable health and safety, including adequate medical care.”

The lengthy, detailed letter cites testimony of eyewitnesses, including protesters arrested during the recent demonstrations against police brutality against African Americans, attesting to ”inadequate preventive measures” against COVID-19 at the jail, as well as “unsanitary conditions and a disturbing lack of medical care or attention for those who have tested positive.”

Among the allegations in the letter: “We understand that individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 were kept in isolation pods that each housed up to 70 people, with rows of two-person bunks less than five feet apart. ... People kept in these pods had unreliable and inadequate access to such simple necessities as drinking water, and some people have resorted to drinking water out of the toilet."

COVID-19 positive “detainees had vomit and feces on their clothing, bedding, and towels. Their blankets, towels, and sheets were not replaced during their weeks-long confinement to isolation pods, and their clothing was replaced only once.The utensils and cups detainees used to eat and drink were not cleaned or replaced while they were in isolation pods.”

The letter insists a series of remedial actions the county should take by 2 p.m.,Thursday of this week, in order to avoid further legal action. Aside from seeking such precautions as providing hygienic toilet articles and pursuing systematic disinfectant actions, the complainants ask for such measures as provision of fresh masks, regular testing, guarantees of social distancing and “non-punitive” quarantine facilities to house infected inmates.

The writers note the obvious: that measures taken on behalf of those already infected would also serve the purpose of protecting those not yet diagnosed with COVID-19. They ask for “prompt access to the facility by a public health expert identified by the undersigned for the purpose of evaluating conditions and making recommendations.”
The signatories include: |

Thomas H. Castelliand, Stella Yarbrough, Andrea Woods, Maria V. Morris, Zoe Brennan-Krohn, all representing ACLU jurisdictions here and nationally; Joseph J. Bial, Darren W. Johnson, Meredith L. Borner, and Jonathan M. Silberstein; and Steve Mulroy, Josh Spickler, and Brice Timmons of Memphis.

To see the letter In its entirety, see below:
See related PDF Letter-to-Shelby-County-Sheriff-06-08-2020.pdf

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