Saliqa Khan, Nathan Baca

April 23, 2020


Also see reports on similar  Oakland County Jail lawsuit by Michigan ACLU, linked below this story.


WASHINGTON–D.C. jail guards put down an inmate protest Wednesday night over COVID-19 lockdown measures, according to a report obtained by WUSA9 written by D.C. jail guards and sent to DC’s Department of Corrections.

District of Columbia County Jail

One guard wrote of an “entire jail unit in chaos” Wednesday night after 8 p.m. when inmates began shouting through their cells and refusing to take their hands out of the food slots in protest.

Inmates claim they haven’t been allowed to shower for more than four days, or use the phones to call family and attorneys during COVID-19 lockdown.

Those claims are similar to what independent inspectors confirmed in the D.C. jail two weekends ago.

Two inmates were pepper-sprayed by guards when they refused to keep their hands in their cells.

WUSA9 asked D.C. Department of Corrections for comment and we’re waiting to hear back.


An inmate has died from the coronavirus in a D.C. Jail, and employees have been worried about their safety due to the spread of coronavirus in the DOC system.

 Nick Boykin (WUSA9)

Published: 4:20 PM EDT April 19, 2020

Updated: 6:47 PM EDT April 19, 2020

WASHINGTON — A federal court judge is ordering D.C. Department of Corrections to immediately improve conditions info the D.C. Jail, after an ACLU lawsuit that laid out how DC DOC wasn’t providing adequate safety and health standards amid the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The court order called for better social distancing practices, better medical care for inmates and increased access to attorneys for inmates, among other specific requirements. See court order by D.C. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar Kelly  at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Banks-v-Booth-Court-Order-re-DC-Jail-prisoners-4-19-20.pdf.

DC District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

“This is a significant victory for the more than 1,400 human beings still incarcerated by the District at the D.C. Jail,” said Steven Marcus, Staff Attorney, Special Litigation Division, Public Defender Service.

“The independent experts’ report confirmed many of our clients’ and jail staff members’ most damning allegations about conditions inside the Jail, and today’s decision orders the Department of Corrections to remedy those conditions right away.


Over 50 inmates at the D.C. Jail have tested positive for the coronavirus, and a 51-year-old inmate has even died from the coronavirus.

ACLU of D.C. joins Black Lives Matter protest

Banks v. Booth was a class-action lawsuit brought by the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the ACLU of the District of Columbia. It is in connection with inmates at the D.C. Jail.

DOC officers also have filed a lawsuit alleging inmates at staff are not being properly protected during the outbreak.

The DOC’s Medical Department and Unity Healthcare are working with DC Health on contact tracing and to protect the health and well-being of all individuals in DOC’s facilities.

Below is a list of improvements that the D.C. Jail must make under the court order:

  • Jail-wide improvements in medical treatment, including expedited response to sick call requests;
  • Enforcement of social distancing, and better education and training for both prisoners and guards about COVID-19 precautions;
  • Consistent provision of proper cleaning supplies;
  • Improvement of conditions in isolation units, including ensuring access to daily showers, clean clothes and linens, and access to telephones for personal and legal calls, so that prisoners are not discouraged from reporting COVID-19 symptoms by the prospect of being isolated in punitive conditions;
  • Increased access to attorneys, including “access to confidential, unmonitored legal calls of a duration sufficient to discuss legal matters”; and
  • Improvements to visitor screening, including staff training on the use of infrared thermometers.


Mayor Muriel Bower on April 13 confirmed the first inmate death at the D.C. Central Detention Facility.

Deon Crowell, 51, passed away the morning of April 13, after being hospitalized from COVID-19, DOC officials confirm.

Deon Crowell

He was taken from the Correctional Treatment Facility and hospitalized on April 7, after testing positive for COVID-19 and experiencing respiratory issues. His next-of-kin were notified of his passing by the DOC Chaplain.

Crowell has been held at the DOC since June 29, 2018. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on April 7 and was placed in isolation where he was monitored by medical staff according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and D.C. Health, officials said.

“Our condolences are with Mr. Crowell’s family during this difficult time,” D.C. Department of Corrections spokesperson Dr. Keena Blackmon said.

Blackmon said an email was sent to the staff at the D.C. Department of Corrections on April 13, notifying employees of Crowell’s death.

Atty. Elizabeth Weller

WUSA9 first reported Crowell’s attorneys had tried to secure a medical release days prior to his death. Attorney Elizabeth Weller released a statement to WUSA9 Monday afternoon.

“We are just devastated to learn of Deon Crowell’s death. He was awaiting trial. He was innocent and never proven guilty. There was no reason for him to die today.

“We asked the Court to release Mr. Crowell back on March 20th. He had multiple health problems and was particularly susceptible to COVID-19’s complications. He was prepared to be on 100% home confinement with GPS monitoring until the pandemic risks lessened. But the Court did not act or rule on the motion, and he was housed at the Correctional Treatment Facility, where we know the outbreak is spreading exponentially every day.

“The Department of Corrections failed to take appropriate actions to protect Mr. Crowell and the other inmates. They utterly failed to implement necessary precautions. This was bound to happen to someone, and will continue to happen to others without immediate action by the Department of Corrections or court-ordered relief in the Public Defender Service and ACLU-DC lawsuit against the DOC over conditions at its facilities.

“Mr. Crowell leaves behind a loving family: his devoted wife, his daughter, two grandchildren, and four siblings. He was a lifelong District resident who was well known around his neighborhood to check in on older neighbors and clean up unkempt yards and alleys,” Weller said.

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Related re: OAKLAND COUNTY JAILOakland County Jail COVID-19 Lawsuit by Michigan ACLU





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