Orange County sheriff refuses ‘absurd’ court order to release 1,800 dangerous criminals due to COVID

Orange County, Calif. Sheriff David Barnes slapped down what he termed an “absurd” order from a state court judge instructing him to release 1,800 prisoners, some of whom he believes are extremely dangerous, ostensibly due to COVID-19 concerns.

In an interview with Fox & Friends on Tuesday, Barnes explained that following the judge’s order would put the public at risk, as several of the county’s inmates are behind bars for child molestation and murder.

The court’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed in April by the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that disabled and otherwise medically vulnerable inmates were not being adequately protected in the Orange County Jail under the state’s constitution, but Barnes pushed back on that.

“The judge’s order said that I had ‘deliberate indifference’ against those who are medically vulnerable within my jail. The government code in California allows me under a declared emergency to release anybody from my jail who I think might be necessary,” Barnes explained, adding that the facility has released 1,400 inmates since March, shortly after the pandemic began.

(Courtesy: Fox News)

However, he said those individuals “were low-level offenders.” The remaining inmates, Barnes added, “are serious offenders.”

“To order the release of 1,800 inmates, 700 of which would be medically vulnerable, I think is absurd,” Barnes, who is sheriff of the state’s third-largest county, continued.

Barnes told co-host Ainsley Earhart that of the remaining offenders, many are behind bars for murder, attempted murder, and child molestation.

“It is an incredible order to be placed on me and I have no intention of doing that, of releasing those individuals back into the community. I think they pose a serious threat,” Barnes said, adding that he was meeting with the county Board of Supervisors later in the day to plan an appeal.

Earhardt asked Barnes if he believes the judge took into account how dangerous it would be to release serious offenders back into the community.

“I think the judge looked at this as if these inmates are innocent people who are being subjected to…the risk of COVID,” the sheriff responded. “Everybody in the community is at risk of COVID right now. We have a surge that’s happening throughout the nation. And to totally discard that and considering [the inmates] being vulnerable and not considering the risk to the public that they present when being released back into the community I think is not only absurd, I think it places the community at risk of being victims of crime.”

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Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson wrote in his ruling that “the uncontested facts here include the conditions in the jail do not permit proper social distancing, there is no mandatory testing of staff or asymptomatic detainees after intake, and no strictly enforced policy of requiring masks for all staff interaction with inmates.”

Barnes responded by saying he believes that Wilson “got a lot of his facts incorrect,” adding that jail staff has been testing inmates regularly.

“We have been so far ahead of the curve when it came to best practices within our jails. We mitigated our COVID crisis down from 220 in March down to zero” as of last week, Barnes said.

He added that he believes many inmates could have contracted the virus while interacting in the community, either appearing in court or engaging in various programs while under guard.

The sheriff also explained that inmates and staff are regularly tested and that many inmates who test positive are showing no signs or symptoms of the virus.

As the interview wound up, Earhardt lamented that eventually Barnes may be forced by courts to release the inmates anyway, but he pushed back on that.

“I have no intention of releasing them,” he reiterated.

Jon Dougherty

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