ACLU calling for action after positive COVID-19 tests at Bob Wiley Detention Facility

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Out of the more than 600 inmates at the Bob Wiley Detention Center in Tulare County, 50 of them are confirmed positive for COVID-19.

This comes just one week after 31 inmates tested positive. The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding answers.

On Tuesday, the ACLU submitted a public records request to the Tulare County Sheriff's Office demanding more information about the growing outbreak.

Emi MacLean is the senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. She represents people in custody in Tulare County jails.

"The responsibility that the sheriff has to protect those in custody is a responsibility that's important not just to those in custody, but also for the broader community in Tulare County and beyond," MacLean said.

Just last year, the ACLU brought on a class-action lawsuit against Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, accusing him of not instituting safety measures to protect inmates from the coronavirus.

A settlement agreement has been signed but not yet approved by the court.

MacLean said, "The sheriff's department is obligated to adhere to the terms that exist within the settlement agreement, which include ensuring that people in the jails are offered vaccinations, that there's adequate testing, that there's basic testing and that there is meaningful oversight of the sheriff's response to covid and the jails."

Within the last week, more than 300 new inmates were brought into the jail and vaccinations were offered and the inmates are housed according to their testing results.

Right now, more than 70 staff members are assigned to the Bob Wiley Detention Facility.

Plus, the sheriff's office says all of the 31 confirmed positive cases were placed in "isolation," pointing to physical court proceedings, outside medical appointments and legal visitors exchanging documents with inmates as the problem.

In response to the outbreak last week, the Sheriff's Office said they "immediately implemented protocols...(like) contact tracing, testing, quarantine/isolation and sanitization".

On Tuesday, Action News asked the sheriff's office if those steps are working. The sheriff's office told us it believes its current actions are helping slow the spread.

But the ACLU says the sheriff's office needs to take more steps to address the growing outbreak.

"A basic measure that needs to be taken is testing of everyone in the facility where there is an outbreak," MacLean said. "Willful blindness should not be an option in the context of COVID. There needs to be knowledge of who's affected in order to be able to contain the pandemic."

Now, the court will hold a public hearing to review the proposed settlement agreement in the Criswell vs Tulare County Sheriff Boudreaux lawsuit on November 29 at 130 pm in Courtroom 5, Seventh Floor, Robert E. Coyle Federal Courthouse.
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