Class action lawsuit filed against Lompoc Federal Prison for "mismanaging" COVID-19 outbreak

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Posted at 5:12 PM, May 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-18 10:44:22-04

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the Federal Prison in Lompoc for the "mismanaging" of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California (ACLU), the Prison Law Office, and the law firm Bird Marella filed the lawsuit Saturday, May 16th in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of people incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institutions in Lompoc and on Terminal Island.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU argues Michael Carvajal, the Director of the BOP, and Louis Milusnic, the Warden of Lompoc, have demonstrated that "they will not take the measures necessary to prevent the coronavirus from converting more prison sentences into death sentences without court intervention."

They also alleged that the prison has under-reported the number of inmates who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, as of May 15, at least 843 inmates have tested positive for the novel virus. Two COVID-19 related deaths have been reported.

In addition, the lawsuit goes on to say that prison officials, "have failed to conduct timely testing, provide adequate PPE, or effectively isolate those who are infected and those who have had contact with the infected," which the plaintiffs argue is a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects against “cruel and unusual punishments.”

“While the rest of California took extraordinary measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, the Bureau of Prisons failed to take preventive measures as basic as isolating sick prisoners, allowing social distancing, or providing enough soap,” said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “Their deliberate indifference to the risk of disease violates the constitution, and puts both those in prison and the surrounding community at risk.”

The Plaintiffs also claim the prison failed to reduce the inmate population to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among inmates and employees calling their actions "inhumane."

"Lompoc's failure to slow the spread of its COVID-19 outbreak has allowed the virus to spread like wildfire."

To read the full class action lawsuit, click here.

John Kostelnik, Western Regional Vice President, Council of Local Prisons 33 responsed to the ACLU Lawsuit;

"On behalf of the brave correctional professionals at FCC Lompoc and FCI Terminal Island, our primary focus is and always will be the safety and wellbeing of the community, inmates, and staff alike. This aspect has many faces, which relate to the COVID-19 outbreak. Our oath to serve and protect, as law enforcement officers, will always be our primary focus and as such we strongly disagree with the ACLU's stance within the lawsuits filled."

Kostelnik goes on to say that the ACLU's lawsuit falls flat on its face in many respects and has hypocritical ideologies including the claims of "cruel and unusual punishment", stating that the inmates are not social distancing, and the prisons lack of testing.

Kostelnik states,"...their only solution is home confinement for all inmates. This is not feasible. Two disqualifying factors are a history of violence and sex offenses. The ACLU's request would place inmates with a history of sexual offenses or serious violent offenses back into the community."

"The ACLU stated the inmates are not social distancing. This is hypocritical in fact; simply put the inmates too have a personal responsibility to ensure social distancing...Furthermore, the BOP has provided additional living space for inmates that have created the ability for all inmates to properly social distance. Sanitation stations have been added, as well as inmates have been provided PPE in accordance with CDC guidelines," said Kostelnik.

"The ACLU stated that the spread of the virus is not meeting the standards they expect yet since we have conducted 100% testing and properly isolated/quarantined from the results we were able to curb the numbers....The numbers are dropping as we continue to test the inmates. The inmate population was tested initially, then tested again to ensure proper numbers. As such they were isolated and quarantined from the results. Since that time the inmates continue to be tested (all inmates) to yield updated results."

Kostelnik said the federal law enforcement officers within the Western Region Federal Bureau of Prisons, are doing an amazing job day in and day out.

KSBY reached out to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a statement and they declined to comment.