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ACLU Lawsuit Alleges Mismanagement Of Weld County Jail During Coronavirus Outbreak

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit against Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams on Wednesday, alleging that the sheriff's office has not done enough to protect inmates from the coronavirus.

Nine inmates and 13 deputies have tested positive over the past week, according to a spokesman for the sheriff's office.

According to the complaint, the seven plaintiffs, all inmates in the Weld County jail, are at an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19 because they have underlying health or medical conditions.

With this court filing, lawyers are asking for an emergency order to force Reams to take certain actions such as disinfecting the jail daily, providing personal protective equipment to staff and inmates, and giving inmates the ability to practice social distancing with six feet of separation. 

The complaint begins like this:

"You are likely reading this Complaint from self-isolation in your home. Now imagine if someone sick with COVID-19 came into that home and then sealed the doors and windows behind them. That is what the Weld County Jail has just done to hundreds of human beings currently detained there, where COVID-19 is confirmed, physical distancing is impossible, and yet no one detained can leave."

Weld County Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the litigation but a spokesperson outlined steps that officials are taking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus: Two housing pods are under quarantine, the entire facility is on lockdown, meals are being served in disposable containers, and inmates are being rotated out of their cells to make phone calls and shower.

Inmates do have access to soap as well as cleaning products for their cells. They do not have protective masks but the sheriff's office says it's working to get more.

Since early March, law enforcement in northern Colorado has worked to release hundreds of inmates from jails in Larimer, Boulder and Weld counties.

"Somebody who is a first-time, low-level offender who for whatever reason didn't have the financial means to post a cash bond, for example," Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke explained. "Folks who have only property crimes on their current charges would be much more suitable than the domestic violence offender, the repeat DUI offender, or the violent offender. ... Public safety and victim safety are always at the top of our priority list, the last thing we're going to do is to put our community at risk."

As KUNC's Senior Editor and Reporter, my job is to find out what’s important to northern Colorado residents and why. I seek to create a deeper sense of urgency and understanding around these issues through in-depth, character driven daily reporting and series work.
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