FCI Waseca

The Federal Correctional Institution — Waseca has seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases since mid-August. A group of new inmates from Oklahoma was transferred to the prison at that time. (Federal Bureau of Prisons photo)

A lawsuit is alleging the federal prison in Waseca didn’t take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, causing 70% of the inmates to contract the virus in three months, and then didn’t provide adequate health care.

The lawsuit describes an inmate who was so weak, coughing up blood and vomiting, that the other inmates had to help her eat and shower while her requests for medical attention were rejected. The lawsuit describes inmates sleeping in bunkbeds two to three feet apart and dozens of inmates locked into a “range” together where COVID-19 would spread. New inmates who were showing COVID-19 symptoms were told to say “no” when asked whether they had been exposed to the virus during the intake process and then weren’t isolated.

“When COVID-19 came to Waseca, it spread like wildfire: one positive test in August led to over 400 infected inmates by October,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota wrote in its petition.

The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 14 women at the Federal Correctional Institution in Waseca seeking an emergency order requiring that the most medically vulnerable inmates are transferred to home confinement; the immediate implementation of social distancing and hygiene measures; and adequate medical care for inmates who have COVID-19 even though the Bureau of Prisons has declared them “recovered.”

The women who are represented in the lawsuit’s class are at a higher risk for complications and death from COVID-19.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota against Michael Carvajal, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, and Waseca prison Warden M. Starr.

Starr could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Thirty inmates from Grady County, Oklahoma, and possibly other jails, arrived at FCI-Waseca around Aug. 18, despite reports of COVID-19 infections at the Grady County Jail, according to the ACLU. Instead of being isolated, the new inmates were tested and put into a range, where nearly all the inmates in the range tested positive for COVID-19 within days.

The inmates were given masks that fell apart and were prohibited from making their own versions, according to the ACLU. They weren’t given personal protective equipment or cleaning supplies, according to the ACLU.

The Bureau of Prisons and Starr rejected requests from nonviolent offenders for release to home confinement and didn’t implement mitigation efforts such as social distancing and routinely testing staff, the ACLU alleges. The organization doesn’t believe Starr will implement changes in the future.

“The warden is actually rolling back protections she previously instituted like closing the cafeteria and the (women) are continuing to deny home confinement to medically vulnerable inmates,” the ACLU wrote.

According to the ACLU’s petition:

Aaryana Malcolm, 51, was locked into a wing with 20 other inmates with COVID-19 and she became so weak, the other inmates had to help her eat and shower. Her medical requests were rejected and she wasn’t permitted to contact her family.

Medical staff checked on her after a guard contacted her case worker and she was rushed to the hospital via ambulance after her oxygen level dropped.

After 10 days in the hospital, she returned to FCI-Waseca and was locked in a room for two weeks. No one helped her with showering, dressing or eating. She was too weak to get onto the bed and slept on the floor.

She tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 1 and is still taking numerous medications, has coughing spells and asthma attacks, and frequently becomes dizzy and lightheaded.

Noelle DuBray, 40, was locked into a range with 30 other inmates and watched as nearly all of them contracted COVID-19. She was told to drink water and buy ibuprofen when she reported she had chest pains, trouble breathing, diarrhea, body aches and terrible headaches.

Pauline Hemicker, 37, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 9 and is still experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath. She is required to work as a sewer for the Federal Prison Industries from 7:15 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week and to 3 p.m. on Sundays for 92 cents per hour. Her request for a job change was denied and believing her life was in danger, she did not go to work. Her grievance to the regional director was rejected for failing to list a date and time.

Load comments