HSRD attorney Dan Stormer, who represents the Youth Justice Coalition, Dignity and Power Now, and nine inmates named as plaintiffs in the suit said, “Prisoners are going to die at an incredible rate unless something is done to address these horrible conditions.”
For immediate release:
Friday, April 24, 2020
Los Angeles, CA — As we face a global health crisis, Justice-LA COVID-19 Response Team has been fighting to ensure a jail sentence does not become a death sentence for people inside the largest jail system in the world. In order to save lives, our coalition submitted a series of demands to LA County leaders. Those demands have not been met. We are in a race against time. As a result, today we are announcing a multi-pronged Class Action lawsuit in federal court against Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (“LASD”) for failure to adequately protect the lives and safety of people incarcerated within Los Angeles County jail system from COVID-19. “Too often, incarcerated people do not have the privilege or platform to protest their conditions. They are not only dealing with a system of punishment, but one of denial, including access to healthcare,” said Lex Steppling of Dignity & Power Now, an organizational Plaintiff. “This constant denial necessitates a response that must involve us all, especially in a moment like this.”
This lawsuit joins a myriad of other lawsuits that have been filed across the country in the wake of COVID-19, as well as a recent ACLU study citing COVID-19 could kill approximately 100,000 more people if jail populations are not dramatically and immediately reduced. Currently, in Men’s Central Jail and other LA County Jails, the majority of people are forced to live in the same room, where dozens of triple bunk beds are placed less than a few feet apart. Even if jail detainees sleep head to foot, there is no way to properly follow social distancing guidelines. Even more alarming, individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, including high temperatures, coughing and body aches, are not separated from other people in the jail and many are denied COVID-19 testing and care when they show symptoms of the disease.
Dignity & Power Now and Youth Justice Coalition, along with 9 currently incarcerated individuals, are the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and the case is filed on behalf of a putative class of everyone incarcerated in Los Angeles County jails. Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP, Kaye McLane Bednarski & Litt LLP, Civil Rights Corps, members of the faculty of the UCLA Law Clinics, and the American Civil Liberties Union are representing the plaintiffs. “People will die unless LASD adopts protective steps or dramatically decarcerates. They must operate consistent with the Center for Disease Control and Los Angeles Department of Public Health guidance standards. There are life threatening risks to all incarcerated people and, most particularly, to the high percentage of medically vulnerable prisoners. These are the prisoners who are most likely to become severely ill or to die should they become infected. We are unapologetic in our fight to save the lives of our clients, as well as staff at these facilities and their communities.” said Dan Stormer, Lead Counsel in this case.
The lawsuit seeks to require the L.A. County Sheriff to implement constitutionally mandated procedures to protect people who are incarcerated from contracting COVID-19 in custody, to comply with guidelines issued by public health agencies, including the CDC and DPH, to maximally mitigate spread of the virus, as well as to release people who are at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection due to age and/or underlying medical conditions.
“What is clear is that L.A. County was not prepared to contain an outbreak of the common cold, let alone a pandemic. All of the public health experts recognize that there is a heightened risk of infection for people who are involved in the criminal legal system and that downsizing the footprint of the system should be part of the COVID-19 public health response. Since COVID-19 is already in the LA County Jails, every possible step must be taken to ameliorate the risk to those who remain detained.” said Michael Saavedra, a member of Youth Justice Coalition, an organizational Plaintiff.
In addition to filing the lawsuit, we are launching a social media campaign – #SuingToSaveLives – which will be the umbrella for all of our digital actions related to the lawsuit – as we continue to escalate our advocacy efforts.