By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
In less than a week, death statistics related to the novel coronavirus rose tremendously in the nation’s capital, with one of the deceased being an inmate in the D.C. jail.
During a Facebook live interview with Council member Kenyan McDuffie on April 9, the AFRO reported that 32 D.C. residents died due to COVID-19. As of April 13, 52 people had died from coronavirus in the District of Columbia.
That’s 20 deaths in 4 days.
Deon Crowell, 51, died from COVID-19 while in custody of the D.C. Department of Corrections on April 13 after his attorney requested his release on March 20, after health concerns related to the potentially fatal disease.
According to a press release submitted to the AFRO by the D.C. Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Deon Crowell, a husband, father, grandfather and native Washingtonian who was incarcerated at the Correctional Treatment Facility at the D.C. Jail, died from COVID-19 on April 13.
Crowell’s death at the age of 51, comes two weeks to the date, since the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the local ACLU chapter submitted a class action lawsuit on March 30 on behalf of all those incarcerated at the D.C. jail.
The class action lawsuit and request for emergency relief could have allowed inmates like Crowell to avoid catching or spreading the novel coronavirus during the pandemic by asking the Court to appoint an independent authority to determine who could be released to home confinement, and provide those still incarcerated with access to soap, hand sanitizers, disinfectants, regular health assessments and more public health provisions.
Crowell’s case comes with a further sting as his attorney, Elizabeth Weller, requested his release 10 days before the lawsuit was filed.
“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,” Weller wrote in a statement.
The Central Detention Facility (CDF/DC Jail). (Photo/doc.dc.gov)
“We asked the Court to release Mr. Crowell back on March 20. He had multiple health problems and was particularly susceptible to COVID-19’s complications. He was prepared to be on 100 percent 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,” Weller explained. “The Department of Corrections failed to take appropriate actions to protect Mr. Crowell and the other inmates.”
Two weeks have gone by since the lawsuit; Crowell passed more than three weeks after his attorney requested his release, and this past weekend, according to NBC-4 Washington, 42 inmates in the D.C. Department of Corrections were in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.
“Mr. Crowell’s death is all the more tragic because it was preventable,” said Jenna Cobb, staff attorney for the Special Litigation Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. “While the Department of Corrections has, since we sued, finally begun to take seriously its authority under the emergency D.C. Council legislation to release sentenced misdemeanants, more than 1,400 people remain at the D.C. Jail. Many have severe medical conditions that also put them at extreme risk of death from COVID-19. DOC’s response has been far too little and far too late. If it cannot meet its constitutional obligations to those in their custody, the court must step in.”
Weller warned that if the D.C. Department of Corrections does not take immediate action to protect inmates, more deaths will occur.
“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,” Weller wrote.