ACLU sues O.C. sheriff to free more inmates, warning that coronavirus cases could rise

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The Orange County Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana is seen on Jan. 23, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

The Orange County Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana is seen on Jan. 23, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

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Accusing the Orange County Sheriff of failing to adequately protect inmates from the coronavirus, the ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to create more social distancing in the jails, with the first step being the release of medically vulnerable inmates.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California accuses Sheriff Don Barnes of violating the constitutional rights of inmates and cites a public health expert who warns 500 inmates are medically vulnerable and that COVID-19 could quadruple in the jails without immediate action.

It asks a federal judge to order the release of “vulnerable and disabled people” in the jails with a public health expert appointed to oversee a comprehensive plan for social distancing, increased cleaning, quarantining and care as well as testing and the wide distribution of personal protective equipment.

As of Thursday evening, Orange County’s three jails had 122 inmates who have tested positive for coronavirus. Three sheriff’s deputies have also tested positive, but they have all recovered.

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