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Michigan Inmates Sue Oakland Couny Sheriff for Inadequate Coronavirus Prevention Measures

— April 21, 2020

Oakland County’s under-sheriff rhetorically asked attorneys whether they’d be willing to “Adopt-a-Con.”

Inmates have launched a class action against a Michigan sheriff, claiming unsanitary conditions in the Oakland County Jail put inmates at risk of contracting coronavirus.

The lawsuit, adds The Oakland Press, calls for an improvement in cleaning standards as well as the immediate release of inmates whose underlying health conditions make them particularly susceptible to infection.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by the Advancement Project and American Civil Liberties Union, the class action names Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and Commander of Corrective Services Curtis Childs as defendants.

Advancement Project attorney Krithika Santhanam told Michigan Radio that Oakland County law enforcement has done practically nothing to protect its inmates from infectious disease.

“The jail is completely not in compliance with both the CDC recommendations for what is necessary to protect from exposure to the virus, and prevent the risk of transmission,” Santhanam said. “Things like providing adequate hygiene supplies, disinfectant supplies, making sure medical care is accessible inside the jail.”

Image via Pexels/Pixabay. (CCA-BY-0.0)

“There are folks who are clearly exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 who are not being properly tested. They are being placed in the same cells with people who are asymptomatic,” Santhanam added. “There are folks incarcerated who work on different detail as trustees, and that could be things like laundry or communal food preparation. And they’re being forced to continue doing those tasks despite visibly exhibiting symptoms.”

Phil Mayor, the senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Michigan branch, said conditions in Oakland County Jail are both “atrocious” and “unhygienic.” Inmates, says Mayor, are routinely denied access to basic cleaning necessities, like soap and hand sanitizer.

“The shared toilets and showers are filthy, filled with insects, dirt and clumps of hair,” Mayor said. “People have to sleep on concrete floor[s] without bunks, nearly cuddling each other. Next door, people who are being quarantined are held in the exact same conditions.”

Mayor also claims that inmates who’ve complained about conditions—or refused to carry out cleaning duties—have faced retaliation from guards, including transfers to less hygienic, more dilapidated quarters.

However, Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe told the Press that Mayor and the inmates claims are, at the very least, exaggerated.

“It’s bull crap,” McCabe said. “We do everything we can for the safety and security of the inmates.”

McCabe said that Oakland County’s local jails are on lockdown because of coronavirus—meaning inmates can’t be transferred to other housing assignments, regardless of whether they’ve angered corrections staff.

He also told the Press that inmates who test positive for coronavirus are segregated from the general population.

“We do not let COVID-positive inmates stay with those that aren’t COVID-positive,” McCabe said, adding that more intensive social distancing measures aren’t possible “at any jail. You just can’t give six feet between everybody.”

“We’re working diligently to make sure the facility is clean and that they are receiving the medical care that they need,” McCabe said. “For the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, we’ve come up with a program called ‘Adopt-a-Con.’ If they want, we can gladly turn them over and they can put them up in their basement. How’s that?”

While arguably humorous, McCabe’s remarks seem somewhat tone-deaf. As Mayor told Michigan Radio, a stint in jail shouldn’t carry the possibility of capital punishment.

“Nobody who’s serving a jail sentence was sentenced to death, and that’s what’s going to happen if there’s not swift action,” Mayor said.


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