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ACLU and Just City file suit asking for release of Shelby County inmates vulnerable to COVID-19

The organizations have filed suit against the sheriff and department over what they say are "horrible conditions."

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The ACLU, and a local judicial reform group called Just City, says the Shelby County Jail is like a Coronavirus breeding ground.

They have filed a lawsuit against Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner and the department over what they call horrible conditions.

According to Josh Spickler of Just City, they are asking for the release of inmates vulnerable to COVID-19.

“The way the coronavirus works,” he says, “... makes it next to impossible to provide appropriate distancing and hygiene for people exposed to the virus.”

One deputy jailer died from the virus a few weeks ago. Just this week, deputies had to use pepper spray to break up a disturbance by quarantined inmates.

“They quarantined a bunch of people at 201 Poplar,” Spickler said, “... on the sixth floor in what was described as horrific conditions. There were people showing symptoms. There were people who had tested positive. They were sleeping on cots on the floor. And those are the folks they pepper sprayed.”

Roughly 86% of all the inmates at 201 Poplar haven’t even had a trial. They are waiting.

“These are people,” Spickler says, “... who in the eyes of the law are innocent. And they are people who are often in jail because they can’t afford bail.”

Spickler and the ACLU plan to ask a judge for emergency action.

“We are asking for a consideration of release,” he says. “Maybe supervision, keeping them accountable, making sure they are court when courts open back up. It could look like house arrest. We’re not asking the judge to open the door to the jail.”

The lawsuit on emergency action is expected to be heard in federal court next week.

RELATED: Justice reform non-profit posts record number of bail for those who can't afford it

RELATED: Spike in COVID-19 cases at 201 Poplar prompts more testing

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