Shelby County Sheriff’s Office sued, accused of not protecting inmates from COVID-19

Published: May. 20, 2020 at 10:40 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner is being sued in federal court, accused of not doing enough to protect inmates at the Shelby County Jail from COVID-19. The suit asks that Bonner immediately clear out his jail cells at 201 Poplar.

Just City Memphis teamed with the ACLU and local attorneys to file the suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court. It’s a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of plaintiffs Michael Edgington and Favian Busby. Edgington, the suit says, is an inmate who is over the age of 60. Busby, also a detainee, has diabetes and hypertension. Their ages and medical conditions, the suit claims, put them most at risk of serious infection or death if they contract COVID-19.

“There was plenty of notice to anyone who runs a jail or prison,” said Josh Spickler, Executive Director of Just City Memphis. “That COVID-19 represents a particular threat to certain people and that we must do everything possible to protect the most vulnerable people in our jails and prisons. And the sheriff clearly has not done that.”

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office has been working with the Shelby County DA’s Office since the start of the coronavirus outbreak to reduce the jail’s population. Capt. Anthony Buckner, the public information officer for SCSO, says on January 1, there were more than 2,500 inmates inside 201 Poplar. As of May 19, there are now 1,832 inmates.

COVID-19 testing has also been conducted inside the county jail. Bucker says 151 detainees in county custody have tested positive and 59 corrections officers have contracted the virus.. One employee died from the disease.

“Since April 29th, when we learned 72-percent of the people who were tested had tested positive,” said Spickler. “To my knowledge, they have not done more testing in that jail, which is really sort of shocking.”

The lawsuit says conditions inside the county jail don't allow social distancing or proper hygiene. It asks the sheriff to identify medically vulnerable and disabled inmates and to let them go, as soon as possible.

“This is not about us avoiding accountability,” said Spickler. “This is about protection. We are asking for fast relief for these folks so that they aren’t sitting ducks for this virus.”

Inmate release options in the lawsuit include supervised release with GPS tracking, placement at a halfway house, treatment center or hospital.

WMC Action News 5 reached out to Sheriff Bonner for comment. His spokesperson, Captain Buckner, said the sheriff’s office does not comment on pending litigation.

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