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Court Filing: COVID-19 Outbreak At San Diego Jail Due To Careless Handling Of Infected Inmate

The Metropolitan Correctional Complex (MCC), site of one of the largest COVID...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: The Metropolitan Correctional Complex (MCC), site of one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the federal prison system, on Sept. 21, 2020.

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m., Sept. 22, 2020:

Victor Cruz's attorney confirmed that Cruz died on Monday evening.

Original story:

An inmate is on the verge of death as one of the largest COVID outbreaks in the federal prison system continues to play out in downtown San Diego.

Victor Cruz, 47, who’s serving an eight-year sentence for methamphetamine possession, was diagnosed with COVID-19 while at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in downtown San Diego last month. His mother told KPBS she will soon have to decide whether to take him off life support at a local Sharp hospital.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

Cruz is one of 196 positive cases of coronavirus at the facility. It’s one of the largest active outbreaks in the federal system. There are 165 federal detainees at the facility who have recovered from COVID-19. The facility mostly houses pretrial defendants.

“Prisons and jails are not equipped to keep people safe in a pandemic," said Sandra Lechman, Cruz’s attorney for his criminal case. "They are the opposite of everything we’re being told to do. You cannot socially distance. You do not get enough soap or purell.”

RELATED: Immigrant Held At Otay Mesa Detention Center Dies From Coronavirus

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Andi Dukleth

Lechman said the Bureau of Prisons could have taken several steps to keep detainees safe and the handling of another one of her clients could have been the start of the outbreak at MCC.

In a motion filed Monday, Lechman said that her other client, Eric Selio, was taken to a local hospital for a routine medical procedure, even after the hospital told MCC the procedure could be done in its own medical unit. According to the filing, Selio contracted COVID-19 while at the hospital on Aug. 18 and then brought it back to MCC. In an effort to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, MCC had not received any new intakes for months, limiting the spread of the virus.

“He was taken back and he was just mixed with his floor as if he had never left the facility," Lechman said. "As far as I know, no safety precautions were taken.”

While Selio remains asymptomatic, Cruz, who contracted the virus shortly after Selio’s return, is dying.

While Cruz has a lengthy criminal history, mostly involving his own drug use, Lechman doesn’t believe that should be a death sentence for her former client. She said until recently, Cruz spoke to his young grandson on the phone everyday from jail.

“Being ripped apart from your family, being ripped apart from your work, being unable to grow with society, that’s the punishment. Death is not the punishment,” Lechman said. “There is no ‘Well, you got in trouble whatever happens happens.’ That is not the American ideal. That is not justice. That is not punishment. That is just wrong.”

MCC’s legal counsel did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons said that while it “does not discuss a specific inmate's medical status or conditions of confinement,” its COVID-19 prevention plan is made up of “a comprehensive management approach that includes screening, testing, appropriate treatment, prevention, education, and infection control measures.”

Nationwide, 121 federal inmates and two Bureau of Prisons staff members have died from the novel coronavirus.

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Aired: September 22, 2020 | Transcript

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