A California sheriff is fighting back against a judge’s order to reduce Orange County’s jail population by 50 percent in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus among inmates, according to reports.
“I have no intention of releasing any of these individuals from my custody,” a defiant county Sheriff Don Barnes said, KABC-TV reported.
“We are going to file an appeal and we’re going to fight it — and if the judge has any intent of releasing any one of these individuals, he will have to go through line by line, name by name and tell me which ones he is ordering released,” the lawman added.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson on Friday ruled that 1,858 inmates must be released from the jail, which houses 3,716 inmates, according to WCBS-TV.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the sheriff amid concerns about inmates spreading the deadly bug in cramped living areas.
“Public safety does not just mean crime,” the ACLU’s Jacob Reisberg said, KABC reported.
“Public safety also means, is there a hospital bed open if you get sick? And if there’s a massive outbreak in the jail, which this de-population order is trying to avoid, there will not be hospital capacity in Orange County for people on the outside who get COVID,” he added.
The judge sided with the ACLU and agreed that conditions in the jail do not permit proper social distancing. He gave Barnes a deadline of Dec. 30 to come up with a list of inmates to be released.
But the sheriff fired back: “These aren’t low-lying offenders — these are people in for very serious offenses, like murder, attempted murder, and domestic violence.”
He added: “The public should be in a panic and they should be concerned about this release.”
Barnes said a week ago that no one in the jail tested positive for COVID-19, but he then announced an outbreak with 138 cases Friday — jumping to 416 by Monday.
He attributed the high number to the fact that everyone in the jail is tested, even those who are asymptomatic, something that’s not being done in the outside population
The Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, CaliforniaMediaNews Group via Getty Images
“We have inmates who are participating in different practices. Either going to medical appointments or going to court or meeting with their attorneys,” Barnes said.
“These people are all from the general public and we know there’s a surge within the general public,” he added.
District Attorney Todd Spitzer said the spike in cases in the poke mirrors the trends around the nation.
“Why does anybody think that what’s going on in our jails is not gonna be a mirror image of what’s already happening on the outside?” Spitzer said.
“The numbers in the jail are not out of control or inflated as compared to what’s going on outside of our jails,” added the DA, who warned about the danger of releasing inmates.
“There’s no doubt it would jeopardize public safety because these are some of the worst of the worst,” he said.