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$95,000 deal reached to settle El Paso County jail coronavirus lawsuit

The lawsuit was filed after more than 1,000 inmates at the jail contracted COVID-19 last fall, the largest outbreak among jails and prisons in Colorado

The El Paso County jail. (Handout)

COLORADO SPRINGS — A Colorado county agreed on Tuesday to pay $65,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that alleged that mismanagement by the sheriff led to a COVID-19 outbreak in the jail last year.

The payment approved by El Paso County commissioners will cover attorneys’ fees paid by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit, The Gazette reported.

Wellpath of Nashville, Tennessee., the company paid to provide health care in the Colorado Springs jail, will pay an additional $30,000 as part of the deal. In exchange, the ACLU agreed to drop the lawsuit without a finding a fault by Sheriff Bill Elder.

Spokespeople for the sheriff’s office and Wellpath declined to comment on the settlement on Wednesday.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The lawsuit was filed after more than 1,000 inmates at the jail contracted COVID-19 last fall, the largest outbreak among jails and prisons in Colorado. It alleged that inmates were not given masks for months during the pandemic and were punished for making their own, which it said helped create a “mammoth, preventable” crisis.

Jail officials have said they worked with county health officials to manage cases in the jail. They said they could not distribute masks initially because the only ones available had metal staples which they said created unspecified safety concerns.

Elder agreed to make changes after the lawsuit was filed, including giving inmates two cloth masks each and regularly monitoring inmates who test positive for COVID-19.

The changes, which were approved by a judge, will remain in place until Oct. 4. However, the ACLU can ask a judge to extend them if Gov. Jared Polis’ emergency public health order remains in effect then and conditions worsen at the jail, Boulder attorney Dan Williams, who worked with the ACLU in the lawsuit, said.

“My hope is the county has learned that implementing these procedures makes good sense for the safety of inmates and the guards and others who work in the jail and the public at large,” he said.

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