EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — As the coronavirus swept through Colorado’s penal institutions, El Paso County jail inmates went months without access to masks, even facing threats of discipline if they tried to use bed sheets or underwear as face coverings, the ACLU of Colorado said Sunday in a class-action lawsuit alleging widespread failures at the jail.
A 36-page complaint in U.S. District Court in Denver alleges that Sheriff Bill Elder’s “deliberate indifference” to the dangers of COVID-19 set the stage for a late-October outbreak that infected more than 1,000 inmates — more than any other jail or prison in the state.
Elder is the sole defendant in the suit, which seeks improvements — including better medical care for the ill and two free cloth masks for each inmate — rather than monetary damages.
Among the Sheriff’s Office’s continuing missteps, the lawsuit alleged, were “disordered, mismanaged” policies that allowed sick and healthy inmates to freely mix, compounding what the ACLU calls a "mammoth, preventable outbreak." The suit says newly arrived inmates weren’t properly quarantined and cites spotty availability of masks after the Sheriff’s Office began providing them amid the growing outbreak, months after they had become commonplace in state prisons and many jails.
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