Order to prevent spread of coronavirus at Cook County Jail to continue while sheriff’s office appeals

A federal judge also denied a request for the sheriff’s office to quickly turn over records to attorneys for detainees about whether jail is following the court’s order.

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Cook County Jail.

Cook County Jail

Sun-Times file

A federal judge ruled Friday that his order mandating action to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the Cook County Jail will continue while the sheriff’s office appeals.

Issuing his ruling, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly said the sheriff’s office has not presented a “strong showing” that its appeal of his preliminary injunction is likely to be successful.

Attorneys for jail detainees filed a class-action lawsuit against Sheriff Tom Dart in March demanding the release of detainees who are at high risk of complications from COVID-19.

Kennelly denied widespread release of the inmates but mandated action at the jail, including widespread testing, as well as actions to socially distance detainees and provide them with access to personal protective equipment.

The sheriff’s office has argued that staff were already taking action to prevent the spread of the virus as they work to keep detainees healthy and continue to functionally operate the jail.

After initially complying with the order and releasing a report of the steps it had taken to comply, the sheriff’s office filed an appeal of the decision on May 11, citing recent decisions in other U.S. districts that attorneys for the sheriff said “determined that a district court may not micromanage the complex day-to-day operations of running a jail, particularly not under threat of contempt, even as they work to maintain operational security in the Jail in the midst of a global pandemic.”

The sheriff’s office requested halting of the judge’s initial order during appeal, which Kennelly denied.

“While we were disappointed that the Court declined to stay the preliminary injunction order while our appeal is pending, we will continue to comply fully with the order’s requirements [while continuing the appeal],” a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said.

Kennelly on Friday also ruled against an emergency motion made by attorneys of the detainees that asked the court to compel the sheriff to release additional records that would show his office was complying with the judge’s mandates.

But, Kennelly wrote, attorneys for the detainees could refile the request for the records as the case moves forward through the discovery process before Judge Robert Gettleman, who has been assigned the case going forward.

One of those attorneys, Alexa Van Brunt with Northwestern University’s MacArther Justice Center, said they would refile the request Tuesday.

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