COLORADO SPRINGS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has sued a county sheriff, claiming jail inmates went months without access to masks as confirmed COVID-19 cases increased in the facility.
The group filed the 36-page complaint in U.S. District Court on Sunday against El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder alleging widespread failures at the jail and “deliberate indifference” to the dangers of the virus resulting in more than 1,000 inmates contracting COVID-19 in late October, The Gazette reported.
More than 1,000 inmates and 165 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the jail website. The sheriff reports that eight workers and 14 inmates remain positive.
The lawsuit alleges the sheriff’s office had “disordered, mismanaged” policies that allowed sick and healthy inmates to intermingle with newly arrived inmates without quarantining.
“We have heard from prisoners whose masks get broken or damaged, that they can’t get replacement masks,” ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein said. “They’re told, ‘We don’t have enough masks to give you a replacement. We don’t have enough masks to give you two to wear one while the other’s being washed.’”
The lawsuit seeks improvements, including better medical care for the infected inmates and two free cloth masks for each inmate. It also asks for a judge’s order requiring inmates and guards wear masks at all times and that inmates infected with the virus be separated from those who have not tested positive.
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Sgt. Deborah Mynatt declined to comment, citing an office policy against discussing pending litigation.
The lawsuit was filed by six current inmates on behalf of the entire jail population, Silverstein said. Of the six, four are pretrial detainees and two are being held after convictions.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some – especially older adults and people with existing health problems – it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.