Two Bristol County Sheriff’s Office staffers test positive for COVID-19

DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WLNE) – A correctional officer and a K9 officer at the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office says the correctional officer works in a specialized housing unit inside the men’s facility. His unit was empty on his last day and had one inmate in the days prior but that inmate has shown zero symptoms.

The K9 officer worked third shift and had no inmate contact and extremely limited contact with staff. His main responsibility on the third shift is securing the outside perimeter of the Dartmouth correctional complex,  a spokesperson for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office said.

The spokesperson added that his “four-legged partner” is showing no symptoms but the officer is still taking extra precautions by limiting his contact with his K9.

The correctional officer’s last shift was March 31 and the K9 officer’s last shift was March 28.

These two cases come after a nurse at the department tested positive for COVID-19 last week, she has since recovered from the virus. The sheriff said her case is not connected to the latest two cases.

Following the announcement of these two new cases, inmate advocacy groups called for the release of ICE detainees in Bristol County, arguing the detainees are now at risk of contracting the virus.

“The virus is in there. It can’t not be if you had employees who were carrying it,” said Rafael Pizarro, the media coordinator for Bristol County for Correctional Justice.

So far, 18 ICE detainees have been released by a Federal judge in Bristol County, including one with a violent history.

“That individual had been convicted in the UK of rape, robbery, assault,” said Sheriff Tom Hodgson.

The judge has since ordered that inmate return to jail. ICE officers are in the process of locating the individual. He remains out in the community.

Pizarro said he is advocating for the release of non-violent detainees.

“In Bristol County, over 50% of the inmates are there because they couldn’t pay bail. They’re there because they’re poor, not because they committed some terrible crime,” said Pizarro.

A Federal judge is reviewing 10 ICE detainee cases a day for possible release. Sheriff Hodgson does not support this.

“You’re going to be sending people out into the community– 80% of our population have drug related issues. They would go out into the community with a compromised immune system, impaired judgement if they start feeding their addiction, which most of them probably will, and they’ll be walking into stores, walking up to people,” said Hodgson.

Hodgson said the safest place for detainees and inmates during the coronavirus pandemic is behind bars.

“We have total control in here. We have a full medical staff available,” said Hodgson.

However, inmates at the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford have written a letter claiming the sheriff is not taking proper coronavirus precautions.

In the letter, inmates claim some housing units need to be sanitized and that inmates continue to congregate in the dining hall.

“The beds are so close to each other, cramped in one room,” added Pizarro.

To read the complete list of the inmate complaints, click here: full ash street letter (1)

Categories: Coronavirus, Massachusetts, News