Detainees Sue Lane County Jail over Limited COVID-19 Protocols, Claiming Violation of Rights

Jun 19, 2020


Credit Elizabeth Gabriel / KLCC News

On June 9, Lane County Jail detainees Bryan MacDonald, Scott Novascone and Thomas Retallick Jr. filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Kate Brown, Lane County Circuit Court Judge Charles Zennache, Lane County Sheriff Cliff Harrold and Lane County Jail Captain Clint Riley. The lawsuit claims the jail has not implemented enough COVID-19 protocols, and have violated their constitutional rights.  

On May 29, MacDonald tried to hold a virtual press conference with local news outlets. It was originally going to take place by MacDonald using a tablet provided by the jail so he could show some visual aids. But he said officers denied him access. Over the phone, MacDonald said this was just one example of officers trying to stifle their rights.

Now, MacDonald said he is working to represent himself in court. But he said he is not just fighting for himself, but for roughly 40 other detainees who have also filed similar complaints with the jail.  

“I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a paralegal,” said MacDonald. “I’m just an inmate with a couple books with a mission—trying to protect us and effect some change.”

The following are the complaints made by MacDonald and roughly 40 other detainees, with some responses from Lane County Sheriff Public Information Officer, Sgt. Carrie Carver that were provided on June 1.  

Inability to Socially Distance

MacDonald shared his experience staying in the jail’s dormitory.

“Our bunks are six inches apart from another bunk,” said MacDonald. “They claim they’re social distancing, but if I take my feet and push them six inches to the left, I will play footsie with a friend of mine.”

But Carver said there is enough space to allow for social distancing.

“The dormitories have been reduced substantially to allow for that social distancing,” said Carver. “And we're really lucky that the dorms are fairly large to begin with, but there is plenty of room for social distancing within each of those dorms.”

MacDonald it is not just the dorms that are not suited for social distancing—it is multiple areas designated for detainees.

“I sit at a metal table and eat my dinner three feet across from another person,” said MacDonald. “At this point you have to take your mask off to eat and the person across from me could very well be a complete stranger who just came out of quarantine.

MacDonald also said the telephones are only a foot and a half apart. He said this has made it difficult when trying to complete telephonic or virtual visitations.

According to Carver, Lane County Jail has a capacity to house 382 detainees, and “has worked with the courts to reduce our population to allow for social distancing. So the last time I checked, we had 265 inmates in custody.”

7-Day Quarantine instead of 14-Days

“Quarantine is seven days here,” said MacDonald. “Everybody in the country knows that it’s a 14-day potential before it’s even shown.”

Limited Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

MacDonald said he and other detainees have been logging times when they do not see officers or medical staff wearing PPE. During the press conference, MacDonald said the list of instances is 10-pages long, and growing. “I see a mask on an officer maybe once a day,” said MacDonald.

When asked if officers are required to wear PPE at all times and if there is enough for all detainees, Carver said the amount of PPE worn depends on the situation.

“Deputies have a range of personal protective equipment to use depending upon the situation,” said Carver. “So some situations call for deputies to wear the gloves, mask, gown, and face shield—while other situations will only call for one or two pieces of PPE.”

Carver said an officer always has the option of wearing more pieces of PPE than the situation dictates.

She also said detainees have access to masks, and inmate workers are only working in certain sections of the facility instead of throughout the building. Carver said those workers also have access to additional PPE based on the job that they're completing.

Cleanliness of Facilities

“Sections of the jail, such as the rec-yard, medical, the law library—they’re not cleaned in-between use,” said MacDonald. “There was a time when they upped it a little bit. They actually came around with a bottle of bleach to spray all the surfaces, killing stuff. But that was months ago when it started, and over the last two weeks, the bleach routine has happened twice.”

MacDonald also said the areas where the guards frequent are much cleaner than the detainee areas. He also said detainees have not been given the proper supplies to clean their areas regularly.

Using a Fever to Determine a COVID-19 Case

MacDonald said he previously had many COVID-19 symptoms and asked to be quarantined.

“I was actually asking them to move me out of the dorm setting into a cell by myself,” said MacDonald.

But MacDonald was told that since he does not have a fever, he was not a danger, and was not tested.

Lack of Visitation

The jails stopped allowing in-person visitation when they first began implementing coronavirus protocols. Detainees are provided a free hour of virtual video visitation and a free hour of phone calls each week.

But MacDonald and others are frustrated with the lack of in-person visitations from their legal counselors and religious clergy, but have noted that parole, probation, and law enforcement officers have been able to conduct in-person visits.

“All religious services have been cancelled, and inmates have had no access to clergy for months,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald said the jail did provide virtual services, but he said that was only provided for a week or two. MacDonald did acknowledge the jail’s updated protocols. But he said it is not enough.

Can the Jail Release Some Pre-Trial Detainees?

Court systems have the authority to release pre-trial defendants. Carver said the jail has worked with the courts to release roughly 120 detainees, but they do not anticipate releasing more people who are in jail pre-trial now that their population is 260. 

“We do have the ability to appropriately have folks social distance,” said Carver. “So at this time I don't believe that we are going to actively reduce lower than 260 [detainees].”

Carver said the jail has been following and evaluating protocols daily, based on recommendations from local, state, and federal public health officials.

This story has been updated to include the amount of people who have been released pre-trial.