Dallas County Jail Faces New Lawsuit Over COVID-19

Steven Pickering
May 21, 2020 - 3:58 pm

DALLAS 1080 KRLD - The ACLU and several other civil rights groups have filed a new lawsuit against the Dallas County Jail. They're requesting the release of inmates they consider to be "medically vulnerable" to COVID-19.

"We've asked a state judge to issue emergency relief. We've sought a temporary restraining order, which is an extraordinary remedy - which is commensurate with the extraordinary circumstances of this moment and the severe risk to the health and the lives of our clients and the class of approximately 1,800 people they represent," said Elizabeth Rossi, a Senior Attorney with the Civil Rights Corps. "We're asking the state court to issue relief just as soon as possible. We hope to have a hearing as soon as the court is able to have us be heard."

A federal judge last month rejected similar requests in a separate case. The judge declined to order the Dallas County Sheriff's Office to release inmates specifically because of the threat of COVID-19.

Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall has previously said the department has reduced low-level arrests by about 50 percent since Sheriff Marian Brown requested reductions in the jail population in March, shortly after COVID-19 was first detected at the jail.

There are three named plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, which is being filed in state court. The suit claims that jail inmates do not have the option to practice social distancing and have limited access to disinfectant or soap.

"Incarceration should not be a death sentence. We are fighting to make sure it does not become one," said Henderson Hill, Senior Counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union. "People in the Dallas County Jail are stuck in close quarters with sick individuals, with no means to protect themselves from the coronavirus."

The treatment of people in jail or prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a priority for national civil rights groups. Reverend Jesse Jackson joined an on-line video conference on Thursday to announce the lawsuit.

"We do not take care of those in jail as we should," he said. "The humanity is lost".

The national organizations were joined by local activists.

"If you go to the jail, whether you stole five dollars worth of goods or whether you committed a murder, it is a possible death sentence," said Reverend Edwin Robinson of Dallas. "You are being put into contact with the coronavirus and that is unacceptable."