Federal judge orders changes at Weld County Jail during COVID-19 crisis

Coronavirus

WELD COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — The Weld County sheriff is following a judge’s order to compile a list of inmates who may be most susceptible to COVID-19.

Sheriff Steve Reams “failed to take adequate measures to protect” the at-risk population in his jail, Hon. Philip A. Brimmer wrote, as he ordered Reams to certify to the court that he has compiled the list of all medically vulnerable inmates by Monday at 5 p.m. 

That includes, according to Brimmer, people who “are 65 years and older, have chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, have serious heart conditions, are immunocompromised, have severe obesity, have diabetes, have chronic kidney disease and undergoing dialysis, or have liver disease.”

The Weld County Sheriff’s Office said it was first compiling data about the inmates and would then determine how to handle the judge’s other orders, which include improving sanitation and social distancing for the vulnerable population.

 “To the sheriff, you better sit up and take notice because there’s bigger people and bigger things at large here, and there are people that actually have lives and people have families that you should take bigger notice on,” said Tom Lewis, a former inmate who was released in April while waiting for his next hearing. “This is not a game.”

Lewis, 60, was named as a plaintiff in the federal case filed against Reams. Attorneys – some of whom worked for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado – asked the judge to order better protections for vulnerable inmates with chronic health conditions and for older inmates, like Lewis.

In April, an elderly man, Charles Peterson, died a few days after being released from jail. According to court testimony, one of Peterson’s roommates contacted an advocate at a local re-entry facility, Rock Found, to report that Peterson could barely walk before being released from jail.
“Another of Charlie’s roommates called to tell me Charlie is very sick, that he was cold and shivering. I called the paramedics and let them know that Charlie needed medical attention and had just been released from the Weld County Jail. I honestly could not believe that not a single person from the Weld County Jail had told anyone at Rock Found that they were releasing a seriously sick person into our care, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis,” Cheryl Cook, the executive director of Rock Found, reported, according to court paperwork.

Joe Moylan, spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said Peterson did not display COVID-19 symptoms before being released from the jail.

To date, at least 18 deputies and 12 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 at some point, according to Moylan.

Moylan said the two most recent inmate cases involved people who were already COVID-19 positive when they entered the jail, and only four of the 12 people who tested positive are still in custody. One deputy is on sick leave, according to Moylan. The rest have been cleared and have returned to work, he said.

“The sheriff has a constitutional duty to keep those prisoners safe and to protect their health. And it’s unfortunate that we need to bring a lawsuit to get a court to order a sheriff to take the steps he must take in order to protect their health,” said Mark Silverstein, the legal director for the ACLU of Colorado, an attorney who helped bring the complaint.

“This ruling should be required reading for every sheriff in the state,” he said.

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