A sheriff in Santa Ana, Calif., is refusing to comply with an Orange County judge's order to release inmates due to surges of COVID-19 in the county's jails.
County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson ruled Friday that 50 percent –– or 1,858 inmates out of 3,716 ––must be released to curb the spread of the coronavirus among inmates, a local ABC affiliate KABC-TV reported.
Sheriff Don Barnes stood against Wilson's order, saying, "I have no intention of releasing any of these individuals from my custody."
"We are going to file an appeal and we're going to fight it and if the judge has any intent of releasing any one of these individuals, he will have to go through line by line, name by name and tell me which ones he is ordering released," said Barnes.
The order comes from an existing lawsuit by the ACLU filed on inmates' behalf. Jacob Reisburg, of the ACLU, defended the judge's move, saying, "Public safety does not just mean crime."
"Public safety also means, is there a hospital bed open if you get sick? And if there's a massive outbreak in the jail, which this de-population order is trying to avoid, there will not be hospital capacity in Orange County for people on the outside who get COVID."
Siding with the ACLU, Wilson ordered Barnes to come up with a list of named inmates by Dec. 30, though Barnes did not hold back in his precautions, saying, "These aren’t low-lying offenders — these are people in for very serious offenses, like murder, attempted murder, and domestic violence."
The decision to release inmates in the jail became urgent after the sheriff announced Friday cases had jumped from 0 to 138 since last Monday. This week, the jail reported total cases at 416.
Still, Barnes attributed the sudden rise in cases to the jail recently beginning to test everyone, including asymptomatic patients.
"We have inmates who are participating in different practices. Either going to medical appointments or going to court or meeting with their attorneys. These people are all from the general public and we know there's a surge within the general public."
District Attorney Todd Spitzer echoed similar points to Barnes, asking, "Why does anybody think that what's going on in our jails is not gonna be a mirror image of what's already happening on the outside?"
Spitzer argued the rising case numbers are "not out of control or inflated" compared to the transmission rate of the virus outside of the jail.
Additionally, Barnes and Spitzer said the release of 1,800 inmates could create more crime and crime victims, citing data from the DA's office.
"There's no doubt it would jeopardize public safety because these are some of the worst of the worst," Spitzer said.