Defense lawyers critical of Lubbock Co. sheriff for COVID response in the jail

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association criticized Sheriff Kelly Rowe on Thursday for his handling of COVID-19 in the county jail.

“Sheriff Rowe’s unwillingness to require his employees to properly wear masks, along with his unwillingness to test every individual at the jail, will cause the number of Covid-19 cases in LCDC to rise,” the association said.

Related Story: More inmates have COVID-19 according to latest report provided to state regulators

As of Wednesday when a report was made to state officials by the Lubbock County Detention Center, there were 42 active cases among the inmates.

The following is the statement from the association:

The Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (“LCDLA”) is one of the largest and most respected local criminal defense bars in the State of Texas. Our 102 members represent almost every person currently being housed in the Lubbock County Detention Center (“LCDC”). Our clients are mothers, fathers, sons, and/or daughters. Many of our clients are in jail because of drug addiction, or mental health issue; every single one of our clients in LCDC is there because they do not have the money to post bond.

We are extremely concerned by the fact that the first person to test positive for Covid-19 in the LCDC was an individual who had been in custody for three months. This means “patient zero” contracted the virus from somebody outside of the LCDC.

While Sheriff Rowe claims to not know if Covid-19 entered his facility through a staff member or a recent arrestee, members of our organization have personally witnessed his officers and staff at the jail and courthouse not wearing masks while in direct contact with our clients, ourselves, and the public. Meanwhile, our clients (including recently arrested individuals) face strict sanctions if they do not wear their masks, are denied visitation with loved ones (even through nocontact video calls), and are denied classes taught by community volunteers out of fear of the virus entering the LCDC. It is clear, Sheriff Rowe’s attempted safeguards did nothing more than unfairly punish our clients (who are presumed innocent of the allegations against them). His measures certainly did nothing to protect those incarcerated from the virus.

LCDLA is also concerned about Sheriff Rowe’s lack of interest in testing every individual in his custody. We understand that social distancing in LCDC is impossible. However, it is entirely possible to distance those infected from those who are not. It is well known that asymptomatic individuals are unknowingly infecting others. Determining who is positive and who is negative would allow Sheriff Rowe to easily social distance and quarantine those individuals which are positive from those testing negative, instead of allowing asymptomatic carriers to be amongst the rest of the jail population.

Sheriff Rowe’s unwillingness to require his employees to properly wear masks, along with his unwillingness to test every individual at the jail, will cause the number of Covid-19 cases in LCDC to rise, placing us and our clients at an even greater risk and ultimately costing the tax payers money. While we recognize that testing all 1300 inmates might be inconvenient, it is far less burdensome than allowing the virus to continue to spread unknowingly and ending up needing hospital beds (at the county’s expense) for a mass number of these incarcerated individuals.

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