Inmate: Oakland jail officers threatened to put us in COVID area

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — An Oakland County Jail inmate testified Monday in U.S. District Court that guards repeatedly threatened prisoners with incarceration in areas contaminated by the COVID-19 virus.

Jamaal Cameron also said he could reach from his jail cell out, around and into an adjacent cell where prisoners afflicted with the coronavirus were held.

Cameron also said that officials had not routinely made bars of soap available to prisoners or provided them with supplies to clean their own cells.

But in a hearing in a suit over conditions at the jail amid the pandemic, a nursing supervisor disputed the inmate's testimony, saying that clear segregation polices isolated ill prisoners and that Camerson could never have been placed in a cell adjacent to COVID-19 contamination.

Vicki Warren, a registered nurse and administrator for Wellpath, which provides privatized health services at the jail, also testified that more than 400 of the 665 current inmates have been tested for the coronavirus, and the rest will be tested soon.

“I’m hoping to have it done within the next 10 days,” Warren testified.

After that, all of the corrections officers will be tested and retested every two weeks, she said.

Local lawyers and three legal groups flied a class-action suit against the county last month, complaining that the prisoners are not provided adequate protection from the coronavirus.

The legal groups are the Advancement Project National Office, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Civil Rights Corps. The defendants are the jail, Sheriff Michael Bouchard and corrections Commander Curtis Childs.

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker previously ordered the authorities to ensure that prisoners have access to soap and hand sanitizer and take other measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the lockup.

In her testimony as a witness for the county, Warren described the efforts to segregate inmates afflicted with COVID-19, testifying that they are immediately removed from the general population to an area remote from the other prisoners.

Then, she testified, the entire row of the jail block around the contaminated cell is quarantined for 14 days.

“So you heard testimony from Mr. Cameron that he could reach around a wall and touch somebody who had corona. Has there ever been a situation at the jail” where that  could have occurred?" asked Steven Potter, an attorney for the county.

“No,” Warren said.

While cross-examining an expert witness for the prisoners, Potter said the jail's population has been reduced from 1,156 on March 22 to 665.

The expert witness, Dr. Adam Scott Lauring, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan who specialized in infectious diseases, testified that the county had been unable to provide the prisoners with the only known defense against the coronavirus: social distancing.

He also testified that for significant time related to the complaint brought to court, the prisoners lacked adequate soap and cleaning supplies.

It is his expert opinion, Lauring testified, that the county had not done all it could to protect the prisoners in a time of pandemic.

“It appears that they’ve been unable to maintain social distancing among the detainees in the jail,” Lauring said. “And it also appears that there has been insufficient attention paid to hygiene, testing and cleaning the environment.”