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  • Writer's pictureSam Orlando

What Happens When a Virginia State Prisoner Gets Covid? A New Lawsuit Details Horrific Conditions

Written by: Sam Orlando

ROANOKE, VA - In a disturbing new lawsuit filed at the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, plaintiff Tyrone Ferguson details a series of troubling events that transpired at the Keen Mountain Correctional Center during a COVID-19 outbreak. Ferguson, a prisoner of the state of Virginia and currently confined at the facility in Oakwood, alleges grave violations of his rights, constituting cruel and unusual punishment and denial of due process, according to documents filed in the lawsuit.

Alleged Conditions in Quarantine:

After testing positive for COVID-19 in August 2021, Ferguson recounts being taken to a Restorative Housing Unit where he was placed in quarantine. The conditions described in his cell are deeply concerning: the cell lacked essential items such as a mattress, toilet paper, and linens. Disturbingly, he describes the cell as having remnants of old food and feces on the floors and walls. Despite pleading for basic cleaning supplies and living essentials, he claims he was denied these necessities for hours, according to the complaint.

Medical Neglect:

Despite exhibiting symptoms of fever, chills, and persistent coughing - clear indications of a severe COVID-19 case - Ferguson says he saw a doctor only once during his eight-day quarantine and was not given any medication to alleviate his suffering, according to the lawsuit.

Moving to the Gymnasium:

Ferguson describes being removed from quarantine after just eight days, two days short of the recommended 10-day isolation period for COVID-19 patients. Without being re-tested, he was moved to a gymnasium with over 50 other individuals who had also recently tested positive. The conditions in the gymnasium were described in the complaint as even worse than his quarantine cell: no ventilation, no available beds, lack of shower facilities, no proper restroom, and frequent power failures.

Defendants' Alleged Behavior:

Ferguson's complaint calls attention to multiple prison officers, including defendant Israel Hamilton, the Warden of Keen Mountain Correctional Center. Ferguson alleges deliberate indifference on the part of Hamilton and accuses other officers of neglecting to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly masks, when interacting with COVID-19 positive inmates. Furthermore, he recounts instances where officers denied him access to grievance forms and rudely rebuffed his requests for PPE usage. On one occasion, an officer reportedly responded to his plea with derogatory language and threats of isolation.

Legal Claims:

Ferguson's lawsuit puts forth several claims:

  1. Allegations of deliberate indifference towards his health and welfare by prematurely moving him from quarantine and subsequently exposing him to COVID-19.

  2. Accusations against officers for violating his Eighth Amendment rights by neglecting to provide essential living conditions and for risking inmates' health by not wearing PPE.

  3. Violations of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights due to the denial of grievance and request forms, preventing him from seeking due process.

Relief Sought:

Ferguson seeks both compensatory and punitive damages, with each amounting to $50,000 from each defendant. Ferguson's suit names ten separate defendants, for a total claim amount of $500,000. He also requests a jury trial for all triable issues, the recovery of costs for the lawsuit, and any additional relief deemed appropriate by the court.

Given the gravity of the claims and the current global emphasis on health and safety due to the pandemic, this lawsuit will likely be closely watched by advocates, legal experts, and the general public alike.

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