WELD COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – In a 39-page ruling Monday, a federal judge ordered Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams to provide special protections to medically vulnerable inmates at the Weld County Jail. Civil rights attorneys and the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of seven inmates at the facility.
The lawsuit claimed the sheriff’s department violated the inmates’ constitutional rights by failing to identify and provide heightened protections for those who are medically vulnerable. The filing asked Sheriff Reams to comply with public health guidelines, including physical distancing, for all inmates considered high-risk for COVID-19.
In his ruling, Judge Philip Brimmer agreed, stating, “The record indicates that the defendant has failed to take adequate measures to protect members of the plaintiff class from COVID-19 given that they face a heightened risk of serious illness or death from the virus. Accordingly, plaintiffs’ conditions of confinement violate the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, and plaintiffs are entitled to a limited preliminary injunction to ameliorate those conditions.”
Judge Brimmer ordered the Weld County Jail to comply with the following:
- Identify incarcerated people who are medically vulnerable
- Socially distance high-risk inmates and provide them with single cells to the greatest extent possible
- Monitor medically vulnerable inmates for signs of illness
- Adequately clean communal spaces used by medically vulnerable inmates
- Ensure that medically vulnerable inmates have access to face masks
A Weld County inmate died of COVID-19 on April 1, two days after his release from the jail. A sheriff’s department spokesperson said the jail was notified that the man was COVID-19 positive on April 2, and said they received no reports of him exhibiting symptoms while in jail.
At least 8 inmates at the Weld County Jail have tested positive for the virus, according to the latest data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In April, the sheriff’s department confirmed 16 deputies had tested positive for the virus.
In order to prevent the spread of the virus, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said in April that inmates were only being let out of their cell in groups of 4 to 8, for one hour a day.
“Weld County’s foot-dragging through March led to its jail being the first one in Colorado to have an outbreak,” said Dan. Williams, of Hutchinson, Black and Cook, who led the ACLU’s portion of the litigation team. “Weld County’s lawyer argued that the judge should excuse the Sheriff’s failure to take COVID-19 more seriously because there had ‘only been one death.’ Today’s order makes clear that when it comes to COVID-19, half measures don’t cut it. Jails need to take aggressive measures to keep medically vulnerable people safe.”
CBS4 reached out to the Weld County Sheriff’s Office for comment on the ruling. The sheriff’s office says after getting data about medically vulnerable inmates at the jail, the sheriff will decide about future jail operations and take into consideration safety risks associated with coronavirus.