Monday, April 6, 2020

Riot threatened at El Paso County jail to virus restrictions

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2020 at 6:02 PM

click to enlarge The intake area at the Criminal Justice Center where a deputy worked before being infected. He died last week. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • The intake area at the Criminal Justice Center where a deputy worked before being infected. He died last week.
After Criminal Justice Center inmates were told of changes designed to quell the spread of COVID-19, a near riot unfolded on April 2, requiring an all-hands callout for help and, in a related matter, the activation of the Special Response Team, the jail's version of SWAT, according to El Paso County Sheriff's Office reports obtained by the Indy.

The Sheriff's Office says no deputies or inmates were injured during the incident, which spanned several hours in a facility where despite close living conditions, no inmates have yet tested positive. The virus last week, though, claimed the life of, Deputy Jeff Hopkins, a 41-year-old deputy who worked in the jail.

The threat of rioting — signaled by inmates covering their faces with towels and wrapping their hands in sheets — triggered in-house disciplinary charges of attempted riot and deviant or delinquent behavior against nine people who allegedly were instigators.

Meantime, El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly says the county's public health department secured coronavirus tests for the jail from the state just over a week ago.

"They currently have them at the facility and can be performed by the Medical staff and submitted through the CDPHE [the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment] lab which now has about a 24-48 hour turn around time," Kelly tells the Indy via email.

Kelly says no inmates have tested positive, adding, "We are in communication constantly concerning possible exposures, isolations, and quarantines of inmates as well as EPSO staff."

He also says all law enforcement officials can be tested at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) testing center without a doctor's referral if they show symptoms, which include a temperature over 100 degrees, a dry cough and shortness of breath.

The FEMA testing center is located on International Circle east of Union Boulevard and is expecting a visit from White House officials April 7 to document the first responder FEMA testing site.

"The purpose of their visit is to tell the story of successful local, state, and federal partner coordination," according to a written update provided to the local COVID-19 Policy Team. "They will be doing a tour of the site, getting b-roll of cars at the site, and interviewing 4-5 individuals connected to the site (a Public Health representative, hospital spokesperson, elected official, a nurse/law enforcement personnel that has gone through the site, etc.)."

"The jail does have access to as many kits as they need currently and I am working with UCHealth [which operates the city's Memorial Hospitals] to ensure the jail also has access to the medical providers and increased testing capacity there moving forward as the inmates represent a very at-risk population," Kelly says. "All this is really good news and significant progress from where we all started."

More on testing of inmates later.
click to enlarge Unlike the ward where inmates threatened to riot, this ward has lock down cells.
  • Unlike the ward where inmates threatened to riot, this ward has lock down cells.
Sheriff's reports show that at about 9:30 p.m. April 2, a sergeant advised the jail deputy overseeing one ward of changes in restrictions due to the virus, which included forcing inmates to eat meals on their bunks instead of a common area. That particular ward has no cells but rather bays with eight beds each.

When Deputy Brenden Koehlinger told inmates of the change, inmates began shouting profanities and refused his order to return to their bunks. He called for assistance and a sergeant responded. But inmates refused to quiet down, and Koehlinger called for Lt. Otis Habert.

From the deputy's report:
As he [Lt. Habert] entered, he got the same response and the Inmates started to walk out of there [sic] bays with towels around there faces, as well as bed sheets wrapped around their hands, this indicated that [sic] were going to start a riot. Lt Habert called for responding Deputies, all assists, and all available Intake Deputies to report to my ward.

Once more Deputies came into the ward, three deputies went to each bay to address them individually. This went on for about two and a half hours until the ward finally calmed down. All Deputies left the ward except for two, who stayed and helped me maintain checks, and med pass, while I was talking to the bays. Lt. Habert advised against moving people out of the ward since that is what they all wanted.

Multiple Inmates stated their displeasure with the rule about eating in their bays if they are locked down, and that [they] would riot if they had to. 
When Deputy Kevin Cross arrived for duty that morning, he wrote in a report, "I could visually see the tension in the ward."

"The common consensus between the inmates was they felt they were being punished for doing nothing wrong and felt disrespected for being told they need to eat on their bunks, and they would 'turn up' [acting disruptive] if they had to eat on their beds," Cross wrote.

Cross said the plan, starting with breakfast on April 3, was to serve the top tier the meal and allow the lower tier to eat in the day room, then rotate on subsequent days.

In a related incident, an inmate became combative when not being accommodated his special diet, prompting deputies to call for the 11-member Special Response Team.

Nine inmates were moved to different ward.

Sheriff's spokesperson Deb Mynatt says one inmate has been tested, with negative results, and gave this description of testing in the jail:
Testing has already begun as of March 30 there were 100 tests provided that we have arranged and from CDPHE. When they come into our facility medical staff will perform a temperature scan and screen with medical-related- COVID-19 questions, and if they fit the parameters they isolate the inmate immediately.

If they start showing signs and symptoms and if they answer yes to any of the questions we put them in isolation and observe them. If they are asymptomatic and a low grade fever and even if they do not fit the COVID parameters we would still put them in isolation for approximately 72 hours, to err on caution.

If they do not show any symptoms within that time frame we can release them into general population. If they begin showing symptoms during that time frame we can conduct tests to rule out flu, strep, etc. If it is ruled out, medical would consult with other medical staff and then determine based on their observations and tests to conduct a COVID-19 test. We cannot test everyone that has a simple cough as an example, because as everyone else nationwide, we are limited in supplies.

We err on the side of caution and observe very closely, every inmate and staff member coming into our facility.

If people are leaving and have shown symptoms, we advise them to contact CDC and to self-isolate.
As of April 6, Mynatt says, 17 inmates are in isolation out of precaution but none have tested positive for COVID-19. Eight deputies have tested positive for the virus, including Deputy  Hopkins, who worked in the jail's intake area. Two others also work in the jail and five others work in other assignments outside the jail.

The jail's medical contractor is Wellpath LLC, based in Nashville, Tennessee, which announced on April 3 it would increase pay and issue bonuses, increase paid time off and other benefits "to help the thousands of frontline team members in sites providing clinical care during the coronavirus crisis." Wellpath was hired after the county had difficulties with compliance by previous contractors.

The jail's normal population tops 1,500 but as of April 6 held 1,087 inmates due to releases made to provide for greater social distancing between inmates and staff while preserving public safety, a sheriff's spokesperson says.

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