Lompoc prison accused of 'cruel and unusual' punishment in COVID-19 class-action lawsuit
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Lompoc prison accused of 'cruel and unusual' punishment in COVID-19 class-action lawsuit

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A federal class-action lawsuit filed against Lompoc prison officials accuses them of failing to take the necessary measures to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak which has infected more than 1,000 inmates and staff at the complex.

The lawsuit, filed Saturday in Los Angeles federal court, accuses Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal and Lompoc prison warden Louis Milsunic of "cruel and unusual" punishment for not preventing the coronavirus outbreak, which became at times the worst in the nation.

The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the pending litigation, spokesman Scott Taylor said Tuesday. 

Five inmates — Yonnedil Torres, Vincent Reed, Felix Garcia, Andre Brown and Shawn Fears — filed the class-action lawsuit, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of the nearly 2,700 inmates at the prison complex, which includes the low security Federal Correctional Institution, the medium security U.S. Penitentiary and satellite camps. 

Specifically, the inmates accuse Carvajal and Milusnic of, among other things, failing to conduct timely testing, provide medical attention, and adequate personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, such as soap and sanitizer.

Additionally, they're accused of not complying with a March 26 memo from the Attorney General urging home confinement for at-risk inmates with underlying medical conditions. 

Inmates in the lawsuit request "enlargement," or confinement other than in a prison cell. 

"[Carvajal and Milusnic] have demonstrated that they will not take the measures necessary to prevent the coronavirus from converting more prison sentences into death sentences without court invention," the lawsuit states. 

Inmate accounts include Yonnedil Carror Torres, a Puerto Rican resident serving a 20-year sentence for carjacking, who reportedly suffers from asthma and became infected. 

Kiara Carror, Torres' 18-year-old sister, alleged in a statement she was notified by a cellmate via letter that her brother went into acute respiratory failure and collapsed in his cell in late April, five days after asking guards for medical assistance. 

He received aid after every prisoner on the cell block began pounding their doors in unison to demand that Carror receive medical attention, according to his sister, who wasn't informed of her brother's condition until he called her on May 9.

"We had no way of knowing whether he was even still alive," Carror said, adding that the virus gave her brother acute lung damage. 

Treatment given to infected inmates was described as "prison discipline more than medical care" by inmate Vincent Reed, 53, who suffers from hypertension and was allegedly placed into solitary confinement on March 30 before his test came back positive. 

"Mr. Reed was left in [solitary confinement] with no medical treatment," Joanna Perales, Reed's attorney, said in a statement included in the lawsuit. 

Since March 31, more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases, which include prison staff infections, and two inmate deaths have been reported, accounting for the largest percentage of cases in Santa Barbara County, according to public health officials. 

In response to the outbreak, prison officials instituted mass testing and constructed a mobile hospital unit campus in early May, although local officials are unsure whether it's functional, according to the lawsuit, which described the unit as "little more than an exercise in public relations."

Coronavirus Series: Local impact and reaction to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

We are working hard to get answers about the impact and reaction to the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, this is a collection of those stories. Do you have a question about coronavirus in Santa Barbara County? The Santa Maria Times news staff will work to answer your questions. Post them to our Facebook page, or email MCooley@SantaMariaTimes.com.  You can support the work of local journalists working hard in your hometown by signing up for a News+ Membership online

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