Attorney: Outbreak at jail could cause delays in the courtroom

"Creates a nightmare for a criminal docket"
Attorney: Outbreak at jail could cause delays in the courtroom
Posted at 12:19 AM, Nov 05, 2020

EL PASO COUNTY — As of November 4, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office reported 57 staff and 690 inmates at the Criminal Justice Center tested positive for coronavirus.

Brandy Leyba said she was in the El Paso County Jail for a little less than a week, and was released on Tuesday, October 27. On that day, the sheriff's office reported eight inmates had confirmed positive cases of coronavirus. "All of the sudden we were told to go sit on our bunks and be quiet... It messes with your mental health, your emotional health. We're criminals, but we're not less human beings," said Leyba.

After Leyba left the jail, the case number counts started increasing quickly. The sheriff's office said the threat of more infection will continue to increase over the next few weeks. Right now, no inmates have been hospitalized.

Those with El Paso County Public Health said places like jails or nursing homes are considered congregate settings, and can be prone to a speedy spread of the virus. The Medical Director for El Paso County Public Health, Dr. Robin Johnson, said she is not surprised by large outbreaks right now. "They're mirroring what we're seeing in the community at large... This is the concern that we have, that once we reach that kind of tipping point of burden of disease, it will spill into these larger outbreaks," said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson also said the numbers from within the jail are reported in the total case counts for the county. However, even if we removed the jail numbers, Dr. Johnson said El Paso County would still be experiencing record increases.

Attorney Stephen Longo has been practicing law for nearly a decade, and said the outbreak not only impacts how the jail operates, it also affects the courtroom. "We can expect significant delays. I mean, at the end of the day, we're talking about roughly 690 cases, over half of the total population at the jail... They're [inmates] transported securely, which requires multiple people. So, there's obviously risk of exposure, which means you can't transport them," said Longo.

Longo has had one case pushed back a handful of times already this year, and that was before the outbreak. He expects this will exacerbate the issue. "Just creates a nightmare for a criminal docket that for most courtrooms is already backed up, probably beyond recovery for this year... More delays that are further backlogging jury trials that at some point, are going to have to happen," said Longo.

Those with the sheriff's office said they are working on a virtual system for inmates to use on their court dates. They expect this to be completed by the end of the year.