The Orange County Superior Court Friday informed Sheriff Don Barnes to reduce jail populations by 50% in an effort to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
The decision was made in response to a lawsuit in April by the American Civil Liberties Union in an effort to “protect medically vulnerable people and people with disabilities detained at the Orange County Jail.”
The lawsuit stated that all of those detained were at “imminent risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.”
Judge Peter Wilson ruled Friday that the sheriff had shown “deliberate indifference” to the serious harm that the virus can pose to medically vulnerable people in custody, violating their state constitutional rights.
The judge found that Barnes “abused his discretion in failing to exercise his clear and present duty … to consider for release petitioners and all other incarcerated people who are medically vulnerable to COVID-19, whose lives are endangered by the COVID-19 emergency.”
Since March, at least 691 inmates have tested positive for the virus in the county’s jail system.
“This very unfortunate development confirms the need to take all reasonable steps to ensure that if an outbreak occurs at the Jail, that outbreak is contained to the fullest extent reasonably possible,” Wilson wrote.