Published: 12/31/2020 6:26:12 PM
Changed: 12/31/2020 6:26:02 PM
A judge is considering whether an inmate at Valley Street Jail suffering from COVID-19 should be released on bail amid concerns about the facility’s health and safety management during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, Hillsborough County Supreme Court Justice Charles Temple heard arguments and testimony on Manchester Prison’s COVID-19 logs for over three hours. Attorney Elliot Friedman argued that these protocols put the health and life of his client William Jones at risk.
Jones, who is on remand awaiting trial, is one of two inmates who recently tested positive for the virus. Friedman said Jones’ treatment by staff, food quality, and access to legal aid all decreased during his quarantine.
Those who testified during the bail hearing included prison superintendent Willie Scurry, who announced hours earlier to Hillsborough County Commissioners that “several” employees had tested positive for COVID-19. Under oath he made it clear that 22 employees are currently positive.
Scurry said he followed the advice of the facility’s medical staff but did not clarify whether the prison complied with CDC guidelines. He said the prison conducted few tests on inmates, but testing in a unit with inmates who may have been exposed has been stepped up.
Prison health director Denise Hartley said inmates who complain of symptoms will be quarantined in cells alone or with other inmates who may be positive. The prison is consulting a doctor to determine if a COVID-19 test is needed.
She also said some inmates who reported symptoms were revoked after being quarantined earlier this month.
Attorney Friedman argued that the lack of facility-wide testing and screening of staff put his client at risk and made it difficult for attorneys to assess their security risk when meeting with clients in person.
“The prison’s approach to COVID in this case will lead me to Mr. James choosing between his and my health and safety and his right to advice,” he said. “And that’s not a decision that anyone in our legal system should make.”
Friedman argued that James was better off quarantining with his mother than staying in a unit where he could infect other inmates.
District Attorney Kent Smith said James was in Valley Street jail “for a reason” and that his diagnosis did not warrant release.
“The arguments you are making are almost hysterical, Judge,” he said. “Sister Hartley described what appears to be a very consistent, complete, and effective method of maintaining order and medical security in prison.”
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