Civil Rights Organizations Sue Wayne County Jail for Immediate Release of Vulnerable People Ahead of Deadly COVID-19 Spread - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

Civil Rights Organizations Sue Wayne County Jail for Immediate Release of Vulnerable People Ahead of Deadly COVID-19 Spread

MEDIA CONTACTS

Zerline Hughes Spruill, 202-487-0967, [email protected]
Joshua Garner, 240-326-3874, [email protected]

 

Advocates warn outbreak is imminent inside county jail

Wayne County, MI—Today, several civil rights and racial justice groups filed a federal lawsuit calling for the release of people inside Wayne County Jail, arguing that county officials are risking the lives of everyone inside and the community at large because of their failure to respond to the threat of COVID-19. Naming Wayne County, Sheriff Benny Napoleon, Undersheriff Daniel Pfannes, Chief of Jails and Court Operations Robert Dunlap, and Deputy Chief of Jail Operations James E. Davis, the lawsuit filed by Advancement Project National Office, Detroit Justice Center, Civil Rights Corps (CRC), LaRene & Kriger P.L.C. and Venable LLP in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan argues that Wayne County officials are violating the constitutional rights of people in the jail by exposing them to an unnecessary risk of infection, illness or death during the coronavirus pandemic.

[CLICK HERE TO READ FULL COMPLAINT]

In addition to immediate release, the lawsuit also asks the court to order Wayne County officials to immediately adopt comprehensive measures to protect the safety and health of people in jail—particularly the population of medically vulnerable people who are more at risk of contracting the virus. Social distancing as recommended by public health officials as the single most effective weapon against the risk of infection is impossible in Wayne County Jail because more than 800 community members are currently held at the facility.

“This petition is about saving lives–the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community during this pandemic. The citizens of Wayne County deserve, and are entitled to, humane treatment, including release from jail facilities, especially during these extraordinary times,” said Ashley Carter, Senior Staff Attorney at Advancement Project National Office. “For decades, Wayne County Jail has violated the constitutional rights of the individuals who are caged there. Without meaningful access to healthcare, personal protection equipment or non-punitive mechanisms for social distancing, officials are risking the lives of everyone held inside the jail.”

On a typical day, jails provide inadequate health care and are places that cause serious harm to the people confined there. Now, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the stakes are heightened—Wayne County Jail has already seen two contracted jail physicians and two deputies die as a result of COVID-19. Another 177 employees and 13 people being held at the jail have contracted the disease, according to the lawsuit. Despite that, those held inside the jail lack consistent access to soap, sanitizer, and cleaning agents to fight against infection. Families are outraged and local advocates are fighting for the release of this vulnerable population.

Seventy percent of community members inside Wayne County Jail are Black, while only comprising 37 percent of the population county wide. The criminal legal system disproportionately impacts Black people, and therefore, decarceration must be a central issue in the fight to save Black lives during this pandemic.

“We support all measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection to inmates, staff and contract employees at Michigan county jails including Wayne County. That is why people who pose no threat to public safety need to be released immediately,” said Nicholas Buckingham, Campaign Director at Michigan Liberation. 

The suit also outlines the following conditions inside the jail: People who begin to show symptoms of COVID-19, such as a dry cough, shortness of breath, or a fever, are not immediately tested or quarantined, if at all; staff are not consistently wearing protective personal equipment such as gloves and masks; a shortage of gloves and masks for people confined in jail; and retaliation from jail staff against those seeking medical intervention to protect against infection.

“We are proud to assist in securing preventative measures and protections from COVID-19 for the Wayne County Jail community and Detroit area generally,” said Marty Saad, a partner at Venable, LLP.

“For over a month, the number of Wayne County Jail detainees and staff infected with COVID-19 has rapidly increased. Individuals have become seriously ill and others have died. Still, jail officials have failed to implement some of the most basic protective measures to make the jail safe,” said Allison Kriger of LaRene & Kriger, PLC. “They have failed to adequately respond to requests for medical treatment, if at all. Folks in the Jail are scared of dying, and understandably so. Jail officials have shown they are dangerously unprepared and completely ill-equipped to manage the potentially-fatal virus within the facilities.”

“Judges have the power to protect public safety in the COVID-19 pandemic by releasing as many people as possible. We know that jails are incapable of providing adequate healthcare in general, let alone during an outbreak like we’re seeing today,” said Thomas B. Harvey, Justice Project Director at Advancement Project National Office. “People in the jail, those who work there, and the general public are at greater risk if we leave people inside than if we let them return home.”

As COVID-19 continues to spread inside the Wayne County Jail, many of the people incarcerated there will require urgent care. An expanded outbreak will cause additional death and devastation to countless lives, according to the suit, and would overwhelm the capacity of the jail’s health services, exacerbate the death toll and the risks to all involved—within and outside the facility. Hospitals in the Detroit area and southeastern Michigan have already reached a tipping point in combating the disease as facilities face staffing, supply, and equipment shortages.

Today’s lawsuit is the second petition in the last month filed by Advancement Project National Office and its partners targeting Detroit area jails, including Oakland County Jail, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In efforts to heavily pressure local and state governments to release people immediately, Advancement Project National Office and Michigan Liberation have created advocacy tools as a call to action for #FreeAndSafe communities. Advancement Project National Office has filed similar suits in St. Louis, Miami, and Oakland County, Michigan.  Community members can also urge local policy makers to release community members in jail with an online call to action made possible through a partnership with Ben & Jerry’s.

###

Advancement Project National Office, founded in 1999, is a next generation, multi-racial civil rights organization with a mission to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy.

Michigan Liberation is a statewide network of people and organizations organizing to end the criminalization of Black families and communities of color in Michigan.

Detroit Justice Center is a non-profit law firm working alongside communities to create economic opportunities, transform the justice system, and promote equitable and just cities.

LaRene & Kriger P.L.C. is a pre-eminent criminal defense firm in Detroit with a long history of both trial and appellate work in notable and challenging cases.

Civil Rights Corps (CRC) is a nonprofit organization working to end the criminalization of poverty through high impact, innovative, anti-racist civil rights litigation and advocacy.

Venable LLP is an American Lawyer Global 100 law firm headquartered in Washington, DC that strategically advances its clients’ objectives in the U.S. and around the globe through its more than 850 professionals across the country.

KEEP READING

Police Brutality in Rochester Proves that Police ‘Reform’ is a Myth

By Thomas B. Harvey, Justice Project Program Director Nothing short of police abolition will end the continued abuses of a system of policing designed to systematically oppress Black people and maintain a white supremacist status quo. Credit: Life Matters Last month, police in Rochester, New York pepper sprayed, manhandled, handcuffed and arrested a nine-year-old Black girl in obvious mental health crisis. This horrifying violence triggered a familiar and morbid routine: news coverage of this police brutality was met with strongly worded condemnations from political leaders, whose calls to reform policing were centered in the conversation; meanwhile…

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Issues Statement on President Biden’s Executive Orders Addressing Racial Equity

“We acknowledge and commend the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to make racial equality a legislative priority and center piece to their agenda."

Read More
Fighting for Voting Rights is How We Honor Dr. King’s Legacy

By Jorge L. Vasquez, Jr., Program Director, Power and Democracy until every eligible voter has equal access to the polls and every voting age citizen is eligible to vote without unnecessary and unwarranted interference, there will always be citizens who, as Dr. King coined, “cannot live as a democratic citizen.” “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind-it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact-I can only submit…

Read More
Police Continue to Protect White Supremacy

If this attack on the Capitol showed one thing, it’s that law and order only applies to Black and Brown people. By Marques Banks, Justice Project Staff Attorney As the nation watched white supremacists storm the United States Capitol, I thought about how police react in strikingly different ways to white protesters versus Black protesters. I am a lawyer who has supported protests over police murders from Mike Brown to George Floyd. I was in the streets and personally watched as my friends, colleagues, and other protesters were beaten, teargassed, and arrested in massive numbers for exercising their…

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Responds to DA Announcement in Jacob Blake Shooting

The Kenosha County District Attorney, Michael Graveley, today announced that Rusten Sheskey, the police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in August will not be criminally charged.

Read More
National Civil Rights Groups Sue Louisiana Judges, Sheriff Over Unconstitutional Bail System

Lawsuit aims to end Baton Rouge’s cash bail system after another person dies awaiting trial at local jail BATON ROUGE, LA – Last night, Fair Fight Initiative, MacArthur Justice Center and Advancement Project National Office sued East Baton Rouge officials in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, seeking to end the immoral and unconstitutional practice of wealth-based incarceration in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (EBRPP). The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four individuals who are being held inside of EBRPP and are unable to afford their bail.

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Responds to First 2020 Presidential Debate

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off in the first of three 2020 presidential debates. On the topic of national protests resulting from the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others, Advancement Project National Office released the following statement.

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Responds to Breonna Taylor Decision

Six months have passed since Louisville police murdered 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her home on March 13, 2020. After months of nationwide protest and uprisings, and both local and national demands to defund the police, a Louisville Grand Jury’s decision was announced today. Attorney General Daniel Cameron today made an announcement regarding the investigation into Taylor’s murder, stating that it was not up to him to decide if the loss of Breonna’s life was a tragedy and that, “the answer to that question was unequivocally yes.” However, the Grand Jury’s decision to indict only one of…

Read More
Civil Rights Organizations Debunk Myths of No COVID-19 Cases in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison

Impacted people behind bars share harrowing stories of coronavirus outbreaks, unsanitary conditions Baton Rouge, LA – Last night, several civil rights and racial justice organizations pushed back on efforts by the Sheriff and Warden of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison to silence the detainees trapped inside the facility and to hide from community members and taxpayers what the organizations say is really happening in the jail.  The Sheriff and Warden, defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by the advocates, claim that the jail has the coronavirus pandemic under control, but the plaintiffs and…

Read More
Webinar on the Power of Sheriffs in Florida – August 10, 2020 at 2pET/11aPT

On Monday, August 10, 2020, at 2p ET/11a PT, join Advancement Project National Office, Dream Defenders and New Florida Majority for a webinar on the power and role of sheriffs in Florida, and how sheriffs impact the school-to-prison pipeline. Learn about organizing efforts to defund policing budgets and address harm throughout Florida, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Receive political education about the history of policing and what communities are doing to build power to build a world without police. Register today!  …

Read More