ACLU, Southern Center File Lawsuit Against Clayton County Sheriff For Lack Of COVID-19 Transparency
The Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit against Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill Wednesday for refusing to disclose documents related to COVID-19 testing in Clayton County jails.
SCHR sent a public records request to Hill for information on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting inmates in the Clayton County jail, according to the lawsuit obtained by GPB News. The request was part of a more significant effort by SCHR to understand how the epidemic is affecting inmates in jails across Georgia.
"There appears to be an outbreak of COVID-19 at this jail, and incarcerated people, their families, and the public have a right to know about it," SCHR attorney Sarah Geraghty said in a statement. "It is both illegal and wrong to withhold vital information about a public health crisis from members of the public."
The SCHR said that the sheriff's office gave a series of shifting responses to their request, which they sent on April 29. They allege that the Clayton County Sheriff's Office had "no responsive documents or record" as of May 4. A day later, they said they would provide the requested statistical data and were "working on a response."
Finally, the office declined on May 7 to provide any documents because it could not disclose information obtained by "accessing medical records."
Kosha Tucker, an attorney with the ACLU, said the Clayton County Sheriff's office has a responsibility to be transparent about its operation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Because surveillance of Covid-19 cases is essential to preventing and mitigating outbreaks in the Clayton County jail," Tucker said. "The public has a right to know about the practices of the Clayton County Sheriff's Office and the effects of Covid-19 on the Clayton County Jail."
Despite the public interest in transparency, Hill has refused to make public any document that would show the effects of COVID-19 at the county jail or the number of inmates infected by the coronavirus. Both the SCHR and the ACLU believe this information must be available to be tracked and reported for practical efforts to help prevent the spread of the virus.