COVID-19 class action lawsuit against SCSO dismissed

Jail health conditions negotiated, class action lawsuit dismissed

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Detainees at the Shelby County Jail will be offered the coronavirus vaccine this Thursday. The move follows the dismissal of a COVID-19 class action lawsuit against the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Tennessee, Just City and other advocates in May of last year on behalf of about a half dozen medically vulnerable inmates in the county jail.

Plaintiffs claimed SCSO was not protecting them from the COVID-19 virus. SCSO announced on Tuesday, the suit was dismissed with prejudice.

Judge denies SCSO’s request to dismiss lawsuit seeking immediate release of inmates

“For the sheriff’s office to claim victory in this matter is inappropriate,” Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City told WMC Action News 5. “It is by no means over. The sheriff has multiple obligations as a result of this settlement.”

Spickler says the dismissal of the COVID-19 suit against SCSO comes only after tireless work negotiating for better health conditions in the county jail.

“So, while the lawsuit portion of this is over, the sheriff’s office has agreed to do very specific things to keep people in that jail safe,” said Spickler.

The lawsuit followed a court order urging jail officials to make improvements after the ACLU says inspectors found:

  • Failure to test new arrestees for COVID-19
  • Open airflow between the healthy and those ill with the virus
  • A lack of fresh masks
  • Inadequate cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and free soap

On April 9, a federal judge approved an agreement between civil rights advocates and the sheriff’s office that guarantees:

  • Rigorous COVID-19 monitoring and reporting
  • Additional jail inspections
  • Improved air flow and ventilation
  • Better protective equipment

An inspector’s report released April 12 calls for a 50% reduction in the jail population at 201 Poplar to make sure there is proper social distancing. But the inspector found the expeditor’s office that works on releasing detainees has major issues.

“It is short-staffed and the manner in which this important service has been handled has proven ineffective and dysfunctional,” said Spickler. “Those are the inspector’s words, not mine.”

According to the latest numbers provided by SCSO, the jail at 201 Poplar holds 1,888 inmates. Jail East, where the women are housed, has 191 detainees and juvenile court has 39 detainees.

SCSO says 289 detainees have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic. No inmate deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported.

So as detainees prepare for their vaccinations this Thursday, Just City is ready to keep fighting for as long as it takes.

“That’s what we sought in the settlement protection for the people in the jail. And until they are safe, this matter is not over,” said Spickler.

SCSO says the detainees will be offered the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will not be administered.

“The detainees receive educational materials about the vaccine,” SCSO said in a statement posted to Twitter. “They know that there will be no punitive actions taken in connection with their decisions. Going forward, all detainees will be asked at booking if they would like to be vaccinated, and detainees who previously declined the vaccine can change their minds and be scheduled for vaccinations.”

Copyright 2021 WMC. All rights reserved.