La Tuna prisoners file lawsuit seeking COVID-19 protections

El Paso News
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ANTHONY, Texas (KTSM) — Six inmates at the La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution in Anthony, Texas filed a federal lawsuit against the facility, claiming the prison is not safeguarding them from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The petition claims the prison is lacking in “any meaningful testing of inmates in the prison,” and alleges there is an indication that “in all likelihood, COVID-19 is spreading among the staff who are bringing it into and out of the facilities.”

The suit was written and filed via certified mail by the six inmates in the facility without present aid of an attorney.

KTSM reached out to the family member of an inmate listed on the lawsuit who says there are reported novel coronavirus cases inside the prison, but inmates are not being told the full scope of the virus spread.

The inmates claim La Tuna is failing to release individuals or home or house confinement, which was recommended by Attorney General Bill Barr in March for all eligible federal inmates to be released to home confinement where appropriate.

“One of BOB’s tools to manage the prison population and keep inmates safe is the ability to grant certain eligible prisoners home confinement in certain circumstances,” Barr stated in the March 26 memo.

Barr outlined a list of discretionary factors including the age and vulnerability of the inmate, security level of the facility holding the inmate, their conduct while in custody and whether the inmate has demonstrated re-entry plan into general population.

La Tuna is a low security federal correctional institution with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp. It holds 607 inmates at the FCI and an additional 199 at the satellite camp. The satellite camp allows inmates to provide labor to the main institution or off-site work programs.

The petition argues that despite La Tuna’s low-security designation, they have not implemented General Attorney Barr’s directive.

In two high-profile cases, former DonaldTrump presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort was released from a low-security federal prison earlier this week. Michael Cohen, the longtime personal attorney for President Trump, was slated to be released earlier this month, but the release was unexpectedly delayed.

The La Tuna lawsuit lists several other arguments, including the assertion that undocumented inmates are facing especially harsh conditions. They say, “ignoring the humanitarian emergency the COVID-19 calls for, allowing this category of inmates to die in prison rather than be deported to their respective countries, presents unique health dangers, which should be addressed immediately.”

The inmates are requesting a review of Attorney General Barr’s directive in order to allow home release for some currently in custody and expanded testing to all inmates being held at La Tuna.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has not released detailed COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities.

The U.S. Marshals have also not released information on their facilities, which are operated by contractor LaSalle Corrections. They manage the Otero County Prison and West Texas Detention Facility. The State of New Mexico has released daily updates for confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Otero County Facility. KTSM has reached out to LaSalle for details on possible virus cases in the West Texas Detention Facility in Sierra Blanca.

Other Detention Facilities

KTSM is able to confirm COVID-19 outbreaks in the following detention facilities in our area.

  • Rogelio Sanchez Unit (TDCJ) – 34 inmates; 11 employees
  • El Paso ICE Processing Center – 10 detainees
  • Otero County ICE Processing Center – 40 detainees
  • Otero County Prison Facility – 21 inmates

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