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Judge rejects lawsuit over Weber Co. Jail inmates exposed to COVID-19

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Posted at 2:56 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-07 17:22:17-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit brought by a group of Weber County Jail inmates exposed to COVID-19.

During a hearing Friday in U.S. District Court, Judge David Barlow said the lawsuit was improperly brought before him.

"These are condition of confinement claims which much be brought as civil rights actions," he said.

The inmates, represented by federal public defense attorneys, filed what's called a habeas corpus petition. They argued that their confinement violated federal law. But lawyers for Weber County and the U.S. government argued that because it challenged the conditions of their incarceration it was best suited as a civil rights lawsuit.

Judge Barlow agreed, and left it open for the inmates to re-file the lawsuit as a civil rights action.

The lawsuit challenged how the Weber County Jail has handled COVID-19, with 114 inmates contracting the potentially deadly virus while they have been incarcerated.

"Our position in short is the conditions at Weber County Jail are so intolerable that these petitioners must be released. It doesn’t mean they need to be released to the street, but they must be released from the jail," said Benji McMurray, an attorney representing the inmates.

He argued the dorm-style living conditions allowed COVID-19 to spread and Weber County has not taken adequate measures to protect inmates and it violated their constitutional rights.

Frank Mylar, who represented Sheriff Ryan Arbon, disagreed.

"We have a sheriff that has taken substantial steps," he said.

Conditions at the jail prompted protests last month.

In an email to FOX 13, McMurray said they were exploring their options.

"We are disappointed by the ruling because our clients have suffered while at Weber County Jail, and we don’t believe the problems that led to this unprecedented outbreak have been solved yet," he wrote. "We will be consulting with our clients to determine whether to appeal this decision or file a new civil rights lawsuit. The bottom line is that things at the jail have to change if our society is to uphold its constitutional obligations during the COVID pandemic."