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Inmate claims Utah prisons mismanaged pandemic care

Posted at 10:48 PM, Nov 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-26 10:10:24-05

DRAPER, Utah — A career criminal whose crimes include a child kidnapping conviction has filed a federal lawsuit against the Utah Department of Corrections contending that he is entitled to decent medical care.

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Among Damon Crist’s allegations are that medical staff mismanaged the COVID-19 pandemic by failing to take basic precautions such as changing gloves and isolating symptomatic inmates.

FOX 13 previously reported that 18 inmates at Utah’s two prisons have died of COVID.

Crist’s lawsuit recently got a boost from the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, which oversees healthcare providers. The decision says the top prison medical staff violated standards of care.

Crist’s lawyers are now seeking to add the man in charge of prison healthcare, Tony Washington, to the lawsuit.

"My initial reaction is just that I’m glad that people are starting to take notice of what’s happening inside the prison system,” said Brandy Gillespie.

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Gillespie has been critical of Washington for a year, ever since her 48-year-old husband, Jerry, died after contracting COVID-19 at the Utah State Prison in Draper.

"I think there needs to be very harsh consequences to Mr. Washington and the people who that working underneath him that are not providing proper care,” added Gillespie.

Gillespie has sent the Department of Corrections a notice of claim, a step toward a lawsuit.

“The notice of claim does mention Mr. Washington as one of a number of individuals who we are alleging may or may not have comported with the standard of care,” said Gillespie's attorney, Wayman Stodart. "We’ve heard similar reports about failure to change gloves. We’ve heard similar reports about testing swabs being out of their initial packaging.”

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As of November 15, the Utah Department of Corrections reported about 3,100 inmates had contracted the virus during the pandemic, more than half the state’s prison population.

FOX 13 reached out to the Department of Corrections for comment, but officials have yet to respond.