CA Sheriff ‘Refuseniks’ – Orange County Sheriff Rebuffs Court Order to Cut Jail Population in Half Because of COVID-19 Threat

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, pictured in May, Gettyimages

By Crescenzo Vellucci

SANTA ANA, CA – Elected California Sheriffs up and down the state have refused to enforce COVID-19 mask orders and avoided requirements to make jails safer by not distributing masks to inmates or even requiring their own correctional staff wear masks and take other steps to stop the spread of the virus in their jails.

Now, the Orange County Sheriff is refusing to obey a Superior Court order to release or transfer about 1,800 inmates in the Orange County Jail because of their susceptibility to COVID-19.

“I have no intention of doing that, of releasing those individuals back into the community. I think they pose a serious threat,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes told “Fox & Friends” Tuesday, charging that he won’t release some who are locked up for murder and child molestation.

Last Friday, Judge Peter J. Wilson of the Orange County Superior Court ordered half the population of the Orange County Jail – about 1,800 of the most “vulnerable” inmates at risk of being infected with COVID-19 – to be removed from the jail, some released and other transferred to “safer” jails.

Judge Wilson strongly criticized the “deliberate indifference” that has put inmates in danger – about 74 inmates has caught the virus and a similar number awaiting results – by not allowing inmates to socially distance.

The judge, decrying how the jail has “violated the constitutional rights” of those inside the facility, also mandated the jail direct all staff to wear masks at all times.

The ACLU lawsuit highlighted alleged gross neglect by Sheriff Barnes and Orange County about their lack of protections for incarcerated people with underlying medical conditions and disabilities in the face of a deadly pandemic.

“I think it (the order) is not only absurd, I think it places the community at significant risk. He (the judge) got a lot of his facts incorrect,” Barnes said Tuesday, claiming that “We have been testing inmates. We have been so far ahead of the curve when it came to best practices within our jails.”

Barnes said he’d already released 1,400 inmates since March, all low-level offenders.

“The only inmates remaining now are serious offenders. Of the medically vulnerable, 90 of them are in custody for murder or attempted murder, 94 for child molestation,” Barnes added, noting that he planned to appeal the Superior Court ruling.

Incarcerated people in Orange County jails have been demanding the immediate release of the most vulnerable people in jail because of their increased risk of contracting COVID, and also asked Orange County jails to provide proper social distancing conditions and provide adequate personal protective equipment, as recommended by public health officials, to protect vulnerable people in jail.

On June 2, 2020, petitioners Cynthia Campbell, Monique Castillo, Sandy Gonzalez, Cecibel Caridad Ortiz, Mark Trace and Don Wager filed a Verified Petition for Writs of Mandate and Habeas Corpus and Complaint for Injunctive Relief against defendant Don Barnes, the Sheriff of Orange County.

The petition, filed as class action, was supported by four volumes of documentary evidence.

According to the filing, the petitioners are all incarcerated people with underlying medical conditions and are forced in spaces with little to no social distancing, care, testing, and personal protective equipment.

Cynthia Campbell, for example, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, a painful autoimmune condition. The class action argues she is constantly at risk of contracting COVID due to jail conditions forcing her into situations where she is closer than six-feet of other incarcerated people.

The jail conditions make it impossible for her to be six feet apart from other incarcerated people whenever she receives her treatments.

Monique Castillo, another plaintiff, has type 1 diabetes. The pleadings note she is afraid of being exposed to COVID because the medical office that she visits four times a day, lacks proper social distancing conditions. Many people tend to be present in the waiting area of the medical office and are not able to properly socially distance, the suit suggests.

Cecibel Caridad Ortiz, also has type 1 diabetes. The court action claims she has had the unfortunate experience of being given only one single-use mask that she had to use over the course of three weeks. She also uses the same medical module with six other people which increases her chances of exposure of the virus.

Don Wagner, is a cancer survivor and the filing charges he is in danger of being exposed to COVID whenever he visits the medical station to get his blood pressure monitored. He has not been given proper personal protective equipment, and has stated he has had to use sheets as makeshift masks and has no money to buy cleaning supplies.

On October 29, 2020, the Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss or stay and overruled the defendant’s demurrers.

As reflected in the Minute Order, the Court found that, given the documents filed in support of the motions ruled, the petitioners made a prima facie case showing that they are entitled to injunctive relief.

The Court accordingly issued an Order in accordance with CRC rule 4.551(c) in which the court takes the petitioner’s factual allegations as true and makes a preliminary assessment regarding whether the petitioner would be entitled to relief if his or her factual allegations were proved.

“This victory belongs to the incarcerated people who had the courage to speak out about Sheriff Barnes’ failed response to COVID-19,” said Daisy Ramirez, jails conditions & policy coordinator at the ACLU SoCal.

“Their resistance and leadership will save lives, as Orange County hospitals are currently nearing capacity. The court’s decision to alleviate the pressure on the jail by depopulating will help prevent the medical infrastructure — in the jail and in the surrounding community — from becoming totally overwhelmed. This order recognizes that we must not forget the humanity of incarcerated people, and they should not be put in mortal danger,” she added.

To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice –

Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link:

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts


    1. David Greenwald

      You mean to refuse to follow a court order – by the way, the jail population are people who mainly still retain the presumption of innocence, they have not been convicted of a crime as of yet.

      1. Keith Olsen

        You mean to refuse to follow a court order

        Sometimes, especially to those on the left, not following orders that one finds to be unconscionable makes them a hero.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Actually, Keith, refusing orders that one finds to be unconsionable [Dad was ‘ordered’ to let Marines “have their fun” with Japanese prisoners he was guarding… he actually pointed his gun at them, and said something to the effect of “not on my watch”… they backed off, possibly felt remorse, so he had no ‘consequences’… (a life long Republican, BTW)], is known on the right and the left… both the right and left will often impose sanctions (up to death, in WWII) for “failure to obey orders”… acts of conscience, like freedom, may “have a price” … neither are ‘free’… but a moral, ethical person will follow their conscience, and be willing to accept any consequences…

        2. David Greenwald

          This is a sheriff that over a two year period his department inexplicably lost and mishandled evidence in crimine proceedings. Adding criminal contempt seems par for the course.

        3. Tia Will


          Sometimes, especially to those on the left, not following orders that one finds to be unconscionable makes them a hero.”

          And you appear to be justifying the same behavior for the non-compliant Sheriff. This is a court order he is defying. If we are a nation of laws, then the title Sheriff should not exempt one.



        4. Keith Olsen

           If we are a nation of laws, then the title Sheriff should not exempt one.

          Okay, then the title of being an illegal immigrant also should not exempt one from illegally entering our country and not obeying our laws.  Do you agree?

  1. Chris Griffith

    Liberal socialists want to us defund the police, defund the pentagon, open borders for illegal immigrants, collect guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens, abolish prison system, abolish electoral college, legalize marijuana, … and now some liberal judge is demanding the release of thousands of criminals back to our streets? Why do liberals want to destroy this country? I wonder when the revolt will start???



    1. Ron Oertel

      Some people apparently think there’s a “revolt”, perhaps partly due to the reasons you cite.  (Personally, I don’t think the result is necessarily bad news.)

      “California’s growth rate at record low as more people leave.”

      “I loved San Francisco when I moved here in 1996. I thought it was the premiere city in the United States. I wouldn’t give you a nickel for it now,” he said. “I think there is a quiet rebellion growing”.

      California’s growth rate at record low as more people leave – Daily Democrat

      1. Chris Griffith

        Uber-liberal San Francisco and other surrounding cities like Oakland  will continue to destroy themselves as long as they embrace these “rob from the rich and give to the poor” policies. As bad as it may sound it might be necessary to let some of our cities follow these flawed ideas, in the hopes that it may educate the voters of California. I wonder when we will get a Republican governor again?


        1. Bill Marshall

           I wonder when we will get a Republican governor again?

          When it has been shown that, beyond doubt, hell has indeed frozen over.

          Republicans have the third largest registration in CA… #1 democrats (declining)… #2 independents, NPP’s (ascending)… #3 republicans (declining)…

          Both major parties have migrated to the 2nd/3rd std deviation of the extremists… folk are fed up… called reality.

    2. Tia Will


      I am a liberal and many people might call me a socialist, although I do not favor the economic system that implies. What I do favor is a system that guarantees that no American lives in poverty and that we can incorporate as many people as possible to share that dream. I do not however favor any of the things you said, and although I travel in very liberal circles, I do not know anyone favoring any of these ideas without modification. What I do not understand is why you feel you are an expert in liberal thought.

  2. Chris Griffith

    What about the rights of Orange County residents who are NOT criminals to be protected from the serious harm these violent offenders have no problem inflicting on their victims? Don’t they have rights too? Or is this just more on the Upside-Down world of Californians who are not allowed to leave their homes because they might get/spread the virus, while violent felons are released and BLM and Antifa are allowed to riot in the streets because they’re all somehow immune? I am curious if the Yolo County Sheriff released 1800 murders and other violent criminals into Davis what would you do???

  3. Tia Will

    I think it would be a much better post if you and Chris did not pretend you were experts in liberal thought.

    If I were to say conservatives are authoritarian, unbridled capitalists who want no regulations at all, would take us back to the days of rampant racism, workhouses for the poor, child labor, would impose your religious views into all aspects of our lives and have no respect for the constitution and bill of rights except those portions you like, I suspect you might both think I was less than knowledgeable about conservative thought, and yet you applaud the same kind of thoughtless generalizations from Chris. Why is it impossible to merely state your own positions and solutions without making false statements about those of others?

  4. Bill Marshall

    refusenik – Bing

    Are you using first definition, or second, David, in your ‘headline’… both could apply… be clear, please…

    Both come from ‘Russian’… is that evidence that this is part of Russian interference?  [tongue fully in mouth cheek]

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for