Federal Judge orders Tulare County Sheriff to make written policy on masks in jails

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A federal judge is ordering the Tulare County Sheriff formalize the way mask wearing and social distancing is handled in jails.

In a 49-page federal court document, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux is accused of having a callous indifference to the health and safety of inmates. Eric Schweitzer is a plaintiff as President of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

"Waiting is not an option, waiting is not an option. There are lives on the line here, Sontaya," said Schweitzer.

In the ruling, the judge concluded the plaintiffs showed enough to illustrate the balance of public interest weighs in their favor.

It means the sheriff needs to adopt a formal COVID-19 plan and make it a policy.

Sheriff Boudreaux says social distancing and mask wearing has been in place since July. As the coronavirus evolved and recommendations changed, his guidelines in the jail were altered accordingly.

"COVID's been changing on us since day 1," said Sheriff Mike Boudreaux. "We went from we should wear a mask to where it's ok to not wear masks. To it was ok to be within six feet not wearing a mask to no, you have to wear a mask all the time."

The Sheriff says he's going above the Centers for Disease Control recommendations and commercially cleaning areas. He's keeping inmates as separated as possible along with taking extra precautions when necessary.
"We have an isolation module, we have a quarantine module, we have an observation module," said Boudreaux.

But Schweitzer says the lack of care for cleanliness and safety was disregarded for months, until the lawsuit was filed.

"This order is very comprehensive. The complaint was 48 pages in length the order, 49 pages in length in explicit detail what has to be done in response to this lawsuit," said Schweitzer.

Boudreaux says his staff also plays a video for inmates to remind them to be sanitary and safe, and provides them with a new mask each night.

The sheriff plans to abide by the judge's requests, but Schweitzer wants more specifics from him about a definitive set of standards he intends to impose, and follow.

Whether the case will go to trial, be settled or dismissed remains to be seen.

But for now, Sheriff Boudreaux must get an official policy in place on inmate mask wearing by September 8 and another one on social distancing by September 14.

He must also provide statistics on COVID-19 testing of inmates and staff along with positive test results.
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