SAN FRANCISCO - The ACLU of Northern California (ACLU NorCal) submitted a California Public Records Act Request (PRA) to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office to demand documentation of the sheriff’s response to the developing Covid-19 outbreak at the Bob Wiley Detention Facility. ACLU NorCal and co-counsel Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP represent plaintiffs in Criswell v. Boudreaux, an ongoing class action lawsuit against Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux for his failure to institute safety measures and policies to protect incarcerated people from Covid-19.
On Oct. 15, ACLU NorCal and co-counsel for plaintiffs in Criswell were informed that at least 48 people had tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the outbreak, and that the outbreak had spread to at least four housing modules. This report comes after the sheriff’s Oct. 12 announcement that at least 31 people had tested positive for Covid-19. One incarcerated person died and was confirmed Covid-positive at the time of his death. No further details have been released, but the sheriff has asserted that Covid-19 was not a cause of death.
“Given the sheriff’s delay in disclosing this information, and the failure to conduct facility-wide testing, we are gravely concerned that the sheriff’s office is not following appropriate measures to prevent the outbreak’s spread, and that officials have not achieved an accurate understanding of the outbreak’s scale,” said Emi MacLean, Senior Staff Attorney at ACLU NorCal. “It is critical that the jail take further measures so that it can understand, and address, the scale of this already dangerous and potentially growing outbreak.”
Media reports indicate that the sheriff’s office suspects the virus entered the jails when an infected person returned from a court visit. However, a large portion of staff are unvaccinated despite CDC guidance and State Public Health Orders urging vaccination of staff members of carceral institutions. The sheriff’s office has reported that one staff member was hospitalized with Covid-19 in the week prior to the current outbreak. A past outbreak in the Tulare County Jails resulted from staff introduction of Covid-19 into the facility.
The public records request, dated Oct. 18, seeks information to help identify the cause of the outbreak and the extent of the sheriff’s response.
The sheriff has signed a settlement agreement in Criswell which identifies mitigation measures to respond to the pandemic, including ensuring vaccination access, prompt and appropriate testing, quarantine and isolation of symptomatic people or individuals who are close contacts, and compliance with CDC guidance concerning mitigation of Covid-19.
Named plaintiff Samuel Camposeco, who is currently incarcerated in the Bob Wiley Detention Facility, was the first person confirmed Covid-positive during the current outbreak. While he is vaccinated, he experienced Covid-19 symptoms and had to demand to be tested. He was eventually isolated. Now, nearly half of his housing unit has been confirmed to have tested positive.
“I did everything I could in here to protect myself,” said Camposeco. “The people who work at the jail are supposed to be taking care of my safety. But from the way that they have treated me, it is clear that they do not care. They do not even make sure their own staff are vaccinated and tested.”