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Custody assistant on life support, 11 inmates test positive at L.A. County jails

Almost a dozen inmates in L.A. County jails have tested positive for the coronavirus while nearly 700 more are being quarantined.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

A custody assistant at Men’s Central Jail is on life support and is one of 33 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employees infected by the coronavirus, officials said.

“We’re just praying and rooting for him that he can pull through,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters at a news conference Monday.

Slightly more than half of the infected employees are sworn deputies, and 429 more employees are under quarantine, he said.

Eleven inmates in L.A. County jails have tested positive for the virus, including two who have fully recovered. Nearly 700 inmates are quarantined.

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A member of the jail’s nursing staff who was infected has died, but Villanueva did not have further details. A spokesperson for the county’s Correctional Health Services unit did not respond to multiple requests for information.

Villanueva said testing protocols in the jails have gotten stricter — inmates in isolation, he said, must now test negative for the virus twice before they are returned to general population housing.

To battle the spread of the virus in its custody facilities, the Sheriff’s Department has reduced the jail population by about 25% to roughly 12,800 inmates, he said.

“We created defensible space now. Now we have the ability to isolate and quarantine hundreds of inmates at a time and move them within the system without exposing them to the virus,” Villauneva said.

More than 1,200 of those who remain behind bars are facing a murder charge, Villanueva said.

“That should give you an idea of the nature of the inmate population that is left behind,” Villanueva said. “Almost the overwhelming majority are violent offenses and they do present a real and present danger to the community. They will remain behind bars.”

Villanueva said that year to date, violent crime is down about 9%, including a 31% drop in homicides. Property crime is also down roughly 15% and calls for service have dropped by about 12%.

Sheriff’s officials have issued 19 coronavirus-related citations, including to owners of nonessential businesses who have stayed open in violation of the county’s stay-at-home order.

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“They tend to run a gamut but the one I think we’ve seen more than once are typically bars,” Villanueva said.

One person — a paddle boarder who ignored lifeguards’ orders to get out of the ocean near the Malibu pier — was arrested.

“We just want to reiterate to the public that the health orders are put in place for your own benefit. Please adhere to them. We’re looking for voluntary compliance,” Villanueva said. “We just have to be patient.”


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