FCI Waseca

The Federal Correctional Institution-Waseca has been at the center of a lawsuit by 14 inmates with the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. A U.S. magistrate is recommending the lawsuit be denied. (Federal Bureau of Prisons photo)

A U.S. magistrate is recommending that the lawsuit over COVID-19 in Waseca’s federal prison be denied.

Magistrate Leo Brisbois denied the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for a temporary restraining order and is recommending the denial of the 14 inmates’ petition to be released to home confinement because their treatment at the Federal Correctional Institution-Waseca doesn’t meet the threshold for cruel and unusual punishment.

Brisbois also noted in his Jan. 15 report that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over releasing the inmates to either home confinement or entirely releasing the inmates from their incarceration. The inmates need to petition the court where they were originally sentenced to do so.

The ACLU, which is representing the inmates in the lawsuit, has two weeks to file an objection and none were filed as of Wednesday, Jan. 20. Brisbois’ 22-page report, which comes after hearing the arguments on the restraining order request on Jan. 6, is a recommendation to U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, who will issue a final decision in the case. Additionally, two of the inmates involved in the lawsuit had their sentences commuted by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

The inmates have not demonstrated that they have a “fair chance of prevailing” on their claims made to the court and not provided the necessary proof, Brisbois wrote.

The inmates are arguing that that their 8th Amendment rights are being violated and they should be released due to the living conditions in the jail. To successfully argue an 8th Amendment violation, the inmates needed to show that they had a “objectively severe medical need” and prison officials knowingly disregarded that need, Brisbois wrote. The inmates’ argument was that the prison had an inadequate plan to respond to COVID-19 cases and didn’t follow that plan.

That argument isn’t supported by the documents provided to the court, he wrote.

“Although petitioners seem to be arguing that the 8th Amendment requires (prison officials) to maintain perfect compliance with those policies, perfection is not constitutionally required,” he wrote.

The prison had one COVID-19 case on Jan. 6 and that can’t be viewed as a “deliberate indifference” to the inmates’ serious medical need, he wrote.

The lawsuit was filed against Michael Carvajal, director of the Bureau of Prisons, and FCI-Waseca Warden M. Starr. The lawsuit was seeking an immediate restraining order and an emergency order requiring that the most medically vulnerable inmates be transferred to home confinement. The ACLU had other demands in its original lawsuit, but has since clarified that it’s petitioning for compassionate release of the inmates.

Aaryana Malcolm is the driving force behind the lawsuit after she became so weak, coughing up blood and vomiting while sick with COVID-19, that other inmates had to help her eat and shower while her requests for medical attention were rejected. At the prison, 70% of the inmates contracted the virus after the lawsuit claims the prison officials failed to take the proper actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 or to provide adequate health care for those who were sick.

Prison officials have denied in court records the lawsuit’s allegations that they didn’t prevent the spread of COVID-19 and provide adequate healthcare for inmates ill with the virus.

Waseca County had 186 COVID-19 cases in mid-August when a few dozen inmates were transferred into FCI-Waseca on Aug. 18 from Grady County, Oklahoma and possibly other jails. A month later, COVID-19 was spreading in the prison and in the community in two separate outbreaks at such an intense rate that Waseca County had one of the fastest growing surges of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to health officials. By mid-October, the county had a cumulative 885 COVID-19 cases.

Reach Reporter Bailey Grubish at 507-837-5451 or follow her on Twitter @wcnbailey. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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