Skip To Content

Sheriff Steve Reams responds to ACLU lawsuit about COVID-19 in the Weld County Jail

Posted on 04/13/2020

Court documents filed this morning show the Weld County Sheriff’s Office was weeks ahead of the curve in its preparation for a possible COVID-19 outbreak in the Weld County Jail.

The “Declaration of Sheriff Steven Reams,” was filed Monday morning in the U.S. District Court of Colorado in response to a lawsuit levied by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado alleging the sheriff’s office was deliberately indifferent about the COVID-19 pandemic and did little to protect inmates at the Weld County Jail from exposure to the illness, also known as Coronavirus.

In the 28-page response, Reams outlines in detail 81 individual steps his agency took to not only prevent an outbreak in the jail – which were successful for more than three weeks – but also the changes in facility protocols following March 31 when sheriff’s office leadership were notified about the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus in an inmate.

Among some of those notable steps include Feb. 27 when Reams directed his detentions and administrative division captains to review the agency’s policies on inmate screening and evaluations, as well as policies about communicable diseases, and to update them in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in Weld County proper or the Weld County Jail. That same day, the sheriff’s office began doubling its orders of household cleaners, toilet paper and hand sanitizer for the jail in preparation for a possible national shortage due to Coronavirus.

As of Feb. 27, there were only 20 known cases of Coronavirus in the U.S. There were no known cases in Colorado at the time.

On March 4, 12 days before the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment declared a Pandemic Health Emergency, the sheriff’s office acted on recommendations from Human Resources of Weld County and healthcare professionals to begin implementing certain safety precautions for all county employees. Among those recommendations were frequent hand washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, covering noses and mouths when coughing and sneezing, avoiding close contact with those exhibiting cold or flu-like symptoms, and staying home if employees felt sick.

Many of the same recommendations were applied to inmates at the jail.

On March 13, the Weld County Sheriff’s Office took the first step in reducing its inmate population when it asked its law enforcement partners at the municipal level to issue a court summons or citation for offenses that wouldn’t require mandatory jail incarceration as outlined by state statute. This occurred 11 days before Gov. Jared Polis issued similar guidance for the state’s law enforcement agencies, courts and prisons.

As of Monday, the Weld County Jail population was 513, which is down from 789 on March 1, or 35 percent. With 954 beds, the jail is operating at 54 percent of its bed space.

The ACLU of Colorado lawsuit, filed April 7 on behalf of seven jail inmates, also alleges

the sheriff’s office has been slow to adopt Coronavirus-specific medical services, claiming one inmate was denied care despite displaying “obvious” symptoms of COVID-19. The sheriff’s office investigated that incident and proved it was unsubstantiated.

Furthermore, jail leadership began working on March 6 with medical services contractor Turn Key Health Services on a comprehensive plan to address COVID-19, including acquiring new screening tools, drafting new screening guidelines, hiring float nurses to conduct more frequent, multi-disciplinary rounding to monitor inmates for Coronavirus symptoms, and drafting transitional housing, quarantine and isolation plans, among others.

“In the face of one of the most difficult times in our recent history, the men and women of the Weld County Sheriff’s Office have remained focused on our number one priority; community

safety,” Reams said. “Unfortunately, the claims by the plaintiffs only serve as an attempt to subvert the criminal justice system and the ACLU lawsuit is little more than a thinly veiled politically motivated attack.”

Click here to view the U.S. District Court filing, which contains additional information about Weld County Jail operations amid the Coronavirus pandemic, as well as current charges and a detailed criminal history for each of the ACLU’s clients. The additional attachments only contain information that is otherwise available to any member of the public.