ORANGE COUNTY, CA — Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes maintains that he can manage coronavirus in his jails, he shared in a social media briefing Wednesday. According to Barnes, the Orange County jails are following protocols, taking temperatures, and have maintained "a robust quarantine environment that has proven to work very well."
In December, an inmate who was awaiting trial for a cold-case murder was hospitalized when he became infected with the coronavirus. He later died.
"Eddie Lee Anderson was accused of raping and strangling a woman in 1976," according to Barnes. He did have underlying health conditions, but was housed in an individual cell, by himself."
It is not known how Anderson became infected, but the sheriff says that his case shows "it is not an absolute panacea to the risk of COVID-19. It is spreading rapidly through the community."
A recent challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union has said that the sheriff should reduce the prison population by 50 percent in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
An appellate court panel rejected Barnes' request to suspend that order, and a hearing will take place on January 8.
Corene Kendrick, an ACLU attorney who brought the lawsuit against the OCSD, responded to Wednesday's message.
"We are heartened to hear that Sheriff Barnes will obey the Superior Courts' order that he submit his plan tomorrow regarding how he can safely reduce the Orange County Jail's population by 50 percent density levels that his medical director recommended over eight months ago," Kendrick said.
Of those still incarcerated, families are worried about their loved ones living behind the jailhouse walls.
Attorney Richard Herman, who has represented many inmates in federal lawsuits against the county regarding the jails, said he had received many calls from prisoners and their families about custody conditions.
"The conditions in the jail are deteriorating," Herman said. "It's just a disaster. It's human misery."
Herman said the inmates are "basically in lockdown. They basically have 15 minutes a day to shower or make phone calls."
Sheriff's authorities have suspended hot meals, and the inmates "get three cold meals a day," Herman said.
To date, the OCSD has released 1,471 inmates. Of those, 183 were medically vulnerable.
Barnes says that he has "released everybody who I can release from my jails." Of the remainder of those incarcerated present, he added that they present a "significant risk of heinous crimes...or present a risk to the public if I release them back into the community."
City News Service contributed to this report.