FRESNO, CA – The Tulare County Sheriff is the target again for the “mismanagement of a COVID-19 outbreak in the county jail system and his implementation of a cruel cell confinement policy that has caused physical and psychological harm to incarcerated people,” according to the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and co-counsel Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.
The new pleading supplements an original class action lawsuit filed nearly a year ago asking the court to “compel the Sheriff to prevent the spread of the disease in the jail,” said the ACLU statement, which said that first complaint predicted a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak would occur in the Tulare County Jails if testing and social distancing measures were not taken.
That, said the ACLU this week, has happened.
In December 2020, 80 percent of incarcerated in one housing unit tested positive for COVID-19. However, the conditions there now are unknown because, charged the ACLU, the Sheriff has “refused to conduct regular surveillance testing or broadbased testing of incarcerated people.” The Sheriff claims, added the ACLU, the “most probable source of the outbreak” was a civilian kitchen worker.
The Court ordered the Sheriff, in the first complaint last summer, to put in place a social distancing policy with standard procedures such as keeping people six feet apart.
But the ACLU said the Sheriff used the social distancing requiring to lock everyone in the unit down for 23-24 hours a day – yet another “violation of their constitutional rights to due process and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment (among others).”
ACLU representatives insist they have received reports of a resultant “mental health crisis in the jails, with one suicide and at least three suicide attempts since the lockdown took effect in September 2020 (and) staff have been involuntarily medicating people who are at risk of suicide due to the desperate conditions.”
“Throughout this crisis, our clients have been extremely diligent in raising their concerns to jail officials and advocating for their rights,” said Annie Decker, attorney for the plaintiffs at the ACLU.
She added, “Despite their warnings, and even in the face of a lawsuit, the Sheriff continues to show deliberate indifference to the people he is charged with protecting. He must act immediately to implement the measures necessary to keep people safe, without willfully infringing on their constitutional rights.”
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring, said the ACLU, the Sheriff to “assess whether he has properly contained
the December outbreak, to regularly test staff and vendors, to vaccinate all incarcerated people as soon as possible, and to implement a social distancing policy that both prevents the spread of COVID-19 and does not violate the Constitution.”
The ACLU maintains that “If such a policy is not possible at current population levels, the Sheriff holds legal authority to depopulate the jails so that a constitutional social distancing policy is possible.”
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