Some Dallas County jail inmates and staff weren't given masks or personal protective equipment even after one person got sick, according to testimony during a federal court hearing Tuesday.
A group of inmates has filed a federal lawsuit against Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown.
The inmates are demanding immediate release for inmates who are over 50 and considered “medically high-risk” for the coronavirus. The suit also calls for the jail to implement social-distancing guidelines and provide COVID-19 tests at no cost.
The federal court hearing was conducted virtually through an online meeting between lawyers, witnesses and Judge Ada Brown. They are set to continue Wednesday morning.
Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to stop the release of potentially dangerous accused criminals but some counties in Texas, like Travis County, went against that to avoid overcrowding during the pandemic. Criminal justice advocates say this ruling could put inmates at risk.
During Tuesday's proceedings, David Jones testified about his time in the county jail since March. He said that one man in his pod, which had 50 other men, got visibly sick, threw up and was later removed.
Jones testified that one man was so weak and sick that the inmates gave him a bottom bunk. Eventually, the man was taken to the infirmary by a wheelchair.
“The man was upset because he wasn’t getting any medical treatment that he requested,” Jones said. “He was saying he put in a medical kite and saying he had a fever and had the symptoms.”
Jones told the judge that it was impossible to social distance and that inmates weren’t given any personal protection equipment while they cleaned up cells. He and other inmates had placed requests for medical attention, but they were often delayed by at least a day.
A Dallas County detention services officer also testified. He said a lieutenant told the jailers to not wear personal protection masks because “it might spook the inmates.”
“Then I saw a parole officer in the hallway. He was all decked out and he had a mask on,” the officer testified. “That threw me for a loop.”
He testified that things rapidly changed at the jail after the lawsuit was filed.
He testified that they had not received any information from his superiors at the Dallas County Sheriff's Office about identifying COVID-19 symptoms or any guidelines for inmates.
“If no one gave you any training on COVID-19, how do you know what to do during a pandemic?” the judge asked him.
“I do not,” he replied.
“Do you use your common sense?” she asked.
“I try to use it the best I can and what I was able to research,” he said.
He testified that after the lawsuit was filed, inmates have received one-time use masks. He also said that if inmates requested a new mask from him he had to use his lunch break to get a new mask from his sergeant.
He testified that he went to a “no movement” pod where inmates who were exposed to coronavirus were staying. He said he didn’t know it was a quarantined pod until he read a paper for one man who was in a single cell. He said a nurse went to the pod to replace an inmate’s bandage.
“The inmate was worried about having to do his wound care when that man was not too far from him and under quarantine,” he said.
He testified that the nurse didn’t know it was a quarantined pod either.
“When she found out she was exposed, she flipped out,” he said.
Lawyers for the sheriff's office asked the officer if he could go get a test on his own and purchase his own personal protective equipment. The officer said yes. They also asked him if he could relay the information he learned on the news about social distancing to the inmates and the officer said yes.
The hearing is set to continue Wednesday morning.