Particular Report: Detainee in Allegheny County Jail: “Then he mentioned I used to be ‘delusional’ as a result of I believed I would catch COVID-19.”

Scenes from an ACJ protest last summer. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

Posted by Brittany Hailer
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor

An outbreak of COVID-19 at Allegheny County Jail has resulted in 75 new cases in just 10 days. That number could get even bigger with 54 pending test results, according to the ACJ website.

While cases are piling up and information about tests is murky, inmates have very specific stories about how prison staff and administrators deal with COVID reduction efforts and tests.

The Pittsburgh Stream obtained dozens of sworn court Statements and independent interviews from people detained at the ACJ during the COVID-19 pandemic. A statement is a written statement that is submitted to a court. The author swears “under penalty of perjury” that the content is true – and acknowledges that he may be prosecuted for perjury if it is in his statement.

The following accounts are based on information from the affidavits.

Even if the pods are quarantined within the ACJ, whether due to the admission process or due to a COVID-19 outbreak, there are still many people pacing up and down, including law enforcement officers, medical staff, prison administrators, pod staff, and even quarantined asked persons.

Detainees and employees claim that the use of the word “quarantine” in prison does not mean “touchless”. Detainees leave their cells to shower. They leave their cells for legal proceedings or to make phone calls. You are entitled to one hour of rest. Prison workers hand-deliver food and medicine to people known to have positive cases and possibly to people who are asymptomatic.

In February 2021, a witness testified: “There were many inmate workers who shared a cell with non-inmate workers. There are many inmate workers who, because of their work, have to travel around the prison, visit different hallways and hall of residence, assemble areas, rooms, and other places outside the pods they live on, and often come into close contact with other incarcerated people, ACJ -Employees and contractors in prison. ACJ has placed inmate workers in the same cell as non-workers. Even if the non-worker is quarantined or locked in his cell 23 hours a day, his cellmate can visit different places outside the capsule and meet other people before returning to the cell they share. ”

The same witness reported that inmates were not routinely tested at the ACJ this month. Even the cell mates of people known to have positive cases were not tested. At least a dozen people arrested also testified that they had been denied requests to test for COVID-19. Several people incarcerated at the ACJ say they were denied testing despite exhibiting symptoms such as fever, cough and body pain.

In April 2020, one detained person started coughing and sneezing, but continued to work throughout the prison, distributing food bowls and toilet paper through the cell doors. Shortly afterwards, his cellmate also showed symptoms. Both asked for medical attention and COVID-19 tests, and both men were turned down according to court records.

Another man detained in April 2020 said, “My cellmate had a high fever and was extremely short of breath on the days we were locked up together. She was eventually taken to the infirmary. No further precautions were taken for those who were confined on the capsule or otherwise interacted with myself or my cellmate. I remain two-celled as another person was brought straight into my cell. The cell was not cleaned before moving in. My new cell mate has a colostomy pouch and serious illnesses. I was never tested for Covid-19. ”

One man said he asked a mental health provider in November 2020 if he could be tested for COVID-19. He had a fever and body aches and could not stop coughing. Would the provider please tell the doctor and have him take a test? The man had requested a test for days from officials who refused.

“He told me, ‘You look pretty good to me’. Then he said I was ‘delusional’ because I thought I might catch COVID-19. He diagnosed me with anxiety and prescribed me mental health medication “Remeron,” the person reported.

In another case, a 74-year-old man fell and broke his hip. He did not receive a COVID test until he was taken to Allegheny General Hospital. He had been in the ACJ for months. His test came back positive after being taken from the ACJ to a public hospital.

According to the incarcerated person who discovered the fallen man, the elderly in the ACJ are particularly vulnerable and neglected. Those who are older and most at risk never leave their cells

“I feel bad for the old people who were in those hospice houses – you are hidden from the world. Nobody can find you and contact you. This was a real reality check for me, ”he said.

This incident also calls into question the accuracy of the COVID-19 information reported by the ACJ.

On the prison’s COVID-19 dashboard under the heading “Number of COVID-19-related hospital stays,” the number is listed as zero and has been since last year. However, Warden Harper himself confirmed in an email that two detainees were being rushed to hospital.

“Both people were monitored for an appropriate period of time and taken back to prison. Both people have fully recovered from COVID-19, ”he wrote.

On an affidavit, one detainee said to Deputy Laura Williams, “How has this affected us since you put these inmates who were in the vicinity of infected people in our capsule? That is neither hygienic nor safe. ”

This imprisoned person said he told Williams he knew that people can have COVID-19 and don’t have a fever. “I said that measuring our temperatures is not able to identify infected people who are asymptomatic. Deputy Williams was visibly upset, ”he said.

According to him, Williams said, “We are waiting to resolve this issue because we are not sure if they have the virus or not.”

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