One Wayne County Sheriff's Deputy Has the Coronavirus, 3 Others Suspected

March 19, 2020, 1:37 PM by  Charlie LeDuff

A Wayne County sheriff's deputy has contracted the coronavirus, and three others have been tested and are awaiting results, a source familiar with the department says. 

The deputy who tested positive is described as a middle-aged man, who was hospitalized Wednesday, according to Reginald Crawford, president of the Wayne County Deputy Sheriffs' Association. His condition is unknown, he said. 

The deputy works in the county's Hamtramck post in the master control room where there's one other deputy.

“The administration tells us they were aware of it,” Crawford said by phone. “If they knew, then why didn't they tell us?”

We originally reported that two tested positive. 

Calls to the offices of the county executive and county sheriff were not immediately returned.

“They should be taking this very seriously and they're not,” Crawford said. “People come in here from all walks of life, whether for a day, overnight or weekend release. They come in and then they're released. The public should be very concerned.”

Unlike prison, dozens of people are processed in and out of the jail system everyday: drunk drivers, deadbeat dads, violent felons, the homeless, those on work release, and people sentenced to serve their time on the weekends. Then there are the workers, who include deputies, nurses, judges and lawyers.

'It's a cluster-fuck'

One county official with knowledge of the situation gave his candor in exchange for confidentiality. “It's a cluster-fuck,” the insider said. “There is no plan.”

Discussions have been held between state, county and court officials about what can be done. Nothing concrete has emerged.

The state has been giving jail officials guidance, but little beyond "wash your hands" and "refer people with a cough to medical professionals," said deputies and nurses in the county jails.

Deadline Detroit has chronicled the conditions of the jails for months, warning that the Detroit jail system is a potential epicenter for the breeding and spread of the coronavirus that has of today infected 161 in Michigan, causing three deaths in the state and another 218,000 worldwide.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office directed officials from the state Department of Corrections to respond our call. That official, however, was unaware of the infected deputies or health conditions inside the Detroit jails, since county jails are separate from the state prison system.

The governor's spokeswoman later texted with this empty chestnut: “We are closely reviewing this specific matter right now and considering what steps we should take to protect persons who are incarcerated or work at jails.”

“There's no plan,” said Crawford, the union president. “You know how crazy this is?”

Glaring gaps

A tour of the jails last week by this reporter revealed no personal protection equipment for deputies, no thermometers at the intake facility, no basic health questionnaires for incoming  inmates at the intake desk, no functioning showers in intake unit, no vacuum packing machines to seal inmates' clothing and property that may carry pathogens, a lack of cleaning supplies and a similar lack of protection equipment for those inmates who are required to clean the cell blocks wearing cotton jumpsuits and paper masks.

This should alarm the public, said Bill Goodman, a lawyer who represents the inmates, as hundreds of people come and go every day.

“This is bad news,” said Goodman. “The jails are a potentially deadly source of fatal disease. There are already a lot of underlying illnesses in there. No sanitary equipment at all. And many people are in for minor charges, especially women, people who shouldn't be in there at all.”

Timothy Kenny, chief judge of Wayne County Circuit Court, has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday as to what steps can be taken to lessen the jail population during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sheriff deputies wonder aloud if that's too long to take. “We're sitting ducks,” said one.

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