CLEVELAND, Ohio— A federal judge, late Thursday, ordered the release of 11 more U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at the Morrow County Jail because of the coronavirus pandemic and the jail’s inability to provide care.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Morrison in Columbus wrote in a 59-page decision that detainees’ underlying medical issues — including gunshot wounds, obesity and asthma — make them increasingly at-risk if their coronavirus symptoms worsened. Morrison also wrote that the Morrow County Jail is ill-prepared to help detainees if their conditions worsened.
“All individuals infected with COVID-19, especially those with comorbidities, must be constantly monitored to assess the worsening of symptoms and the potential need for the escalation of care,” Morrison wrote. “This is particularly so because symptoms can quickly take a turn for the worse and require care within as little as thirty minutes. Morrow has shown that it is not up to this task.”
The 11 released detainees join three others previously released as part of a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.
Ten other detainees who are part of the lawsuit remain in jail. Two detainees were released without a judge’s intervention.
Those released from the jail must quarantine at a friend’s or relative’s home until they’re symptom-free for 14 days or until they test negative for the virus. After that, they’ll remain on home detention.
The 23 detainees were held on civil immigration charges, not criminal charges. All had underlying health conditions, according to the lawsuit.
In late April and early May, coronavirus cases at the Morrow County Jail ballooned from zero to 50 in the matter of days, according to statistics from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
ACLU attorney Elizabeth Bonham said another detainee, not part of the lawsuit, died from coronavirus after being released from the jail.
The judge’s order comes after a Monday (May 11) hearing in which three inmates testified about the conditions in the jail. The judge found that Morrow County relies on corrections officers, not nurses, to monitor the detainee’s symptoms and to take their temperatures.
The officers took temperatures less often than the required three times per day, and their thermometers are expired and gave incorrect readings, according to the ruling.
Detainees had limited access to nurses during the day, and nurses did not work nights and weekends. None of the detainees ever saw or had access to a doctor, the order says.
Detainees also testified that they acted as interpreters for other detainees because no officers speak anything other than English. Some testified they were unsure if they correctly translated their fellow detainees' issues.
“It’s just not a place where you can get any kind of care,” Bonham said. “We’re really relieved that they were released to safety.”
Sep 19 2019 - Ohio counties earn millions on ICE’s hunt for undocumented immigrants
March 25 2020 - Immigration advocates ask Ohio to release inmates, ICE detainees due to coronavirus outbreak
April 10 2020 - ACLU sues ICE, wants high-risk detainees in Ohio jails [Geauga, Seneca] released over coronavirus concerns April 18 2020 - Federal judge in Cleveland orders release of man in ICE custody over coronavirus concerns: U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland wrote in an order Saturday that keeping Romel Amaya-Cruz [El Salvador] in [Geauga County Jail] during the pandemic violates his constitutional rights due to his medical vulnerability to the virus. May 3 2020 - Federal judge orders release of additional ICE detainees from Geauga County Jail due to coronavirus: Jonas Nsongi Mbonga and Elvira Pascalenco were freed on electronic monitoring following a ruling Thursday by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster. May 12 2020 - ICE detainee with coronavirus in Ohio jail: "I can't believe I'm in America": The detainees testified that conditions in the Morrow County Jail in central Ohio make it impossible to get proper medical care and practice appropriate social distancing.