The Broward Public Defender’s Office is calling on the county’s sheriff to make robust changes in the handling of the coronavirus inside jail facilities, as inmates and staff have allegedly been subjected to poor medical attention.
In a letter to Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, public defender Howard Finkelstein says the public defender’s office had received “disturbing information” from inmates inside the Broward County Jail.
The letter says inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 are not being held in the facility’s medical infirmary. Instead, inmates say they are being housed in a “COVID-19 unit” where medical attention is allegedly being ignored.
Inmates were even forced to flood toilets inside the unit in order to get the attention of detention personnel, according to the letter.
“When detention deputies finally entered the unit, they were physically and verbally aggressive and threatening,” Finkelstein writes. “One deputy allegedly pointed a taser at an inmate’s chest with full knowledge that the inmate had heart issues.”
Finkelstein suggests deputies are ignoring inmates for fear of being exposed to the virus.
He references an incident that occurred on April 15th - when cameras rolling on an on-going hearing captured a deputy yelling obscenities at an inmate who tested positive for COVID-19 and was being released from jail.
“It is apparent that fear is rampant in the jail and aggression is escalating,” Finkelstein writes.
Those fears are being amplified due to BSO’s alleged failure to test inmates and staff, according to the letter.
“Despite uncontroverted medical opinion that jails are incubators for COVID-19 because of the inability to socially isolate and provide adequate opportunity for handwashing, you have failed to require testing of all inmates and staff,” Finkelstein writes.
The Broward Public Defender’s Office is asking that all inmates and staff be tested for COVID-19, and that those that test positive be properly monitored by medical personnel at an hourly basis.
The letter comes after a turbulent week for Tony, as the Broward Sheriff is facing a vote of no-confidence after the suspension of the union's president.
Jeff Bell, the president of the 1,400-member Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, was suspended with pay last Friday after criticizing the sheriff’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Tuesday, 36 BSO employees had tested positive for coronavirus and 187 were being monitored at home.