Authorities: 3 Duval County jail inmates die after contracting COVID-19

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday confirmed that three inmates at the Pre-trial Detention Facility have died due to complications from COVID-19.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday confirmed that three inmates at the Pre-trial Detention Facility have died due to complications from COVID-19.

Since the pandemic began, this is the first time the Sheriff’s Office has released information about COVID-19 deaths involving inmates of the Duval County jail. JSO said one inmate died in July and two others died in November. All three were taken to the hospital before they died.

Patricia Brooks’ son is an inmate at the jail. She said he suffers from asthma and that he has been diagnosed with COVID-19 more than once.

“They’re not in there for a death sentence,” Brooks said.

Jason Shirley told News4Jax that he was released from jail In December. When asked what the conditions were like when he was in jail, he said: “It was overcrowded.”

When asked if he was surprised to learn of the deaths, Shirley replied: “No. It was just a matter of time.”

The first cases of COVID-19 were reported at the Duval County jail in June, according to JSO. In September, the FDOH reported in the four-month period that at least 240 corrections officers tested positive at the jail and that 400 inmates tested positive.

Sheriff Mike Williams said in June a medical staff member with third party health care contractor Armor Correctional health exposed inmates and employees inside the jail to COVID-19. According to Williams, the doctor previously showed symptoms of the virus but failed to notify jail personnel.

“We had done a great job up until, you know, we had one employee or contract employee not follow, you know, basic protocol and really started this whole chain,” said Williams. “They were, at some point, symptomatic and didn’t report that. It was one of the health care workers in the jail. They, obviously, have since been removed and are no longer an employee of the health care provider.”

Since November, News4Jax has been asking the Department of Health for an update on the number of inmates who have tested positive for the virus since September. The agency has declined to provide the number of positive cases.

The Jacksonville Sheriffs Office has provided the number of its employees testing positive when requested, but has deferred requests on inmates positives to the Florida Department of health.

“Due to the fluctuation in inmate population throughout the day, this data point is difficult to accurately provide. Because the Florida Department of Health strives only to release data that is accurate and will not compromise privacy or investigations, we will not be able to grant this request,” said FDOH Duval County spokesperson Samantha Epstein in an email on Jan. 19.

The Florida Department of Health declined to provide the information again Wednesday.

The virus cases have had an impact on court hearings. In November, for instance, three criminal trials were stopped after two defendants and an employee coming from the jail tested positive.

In regard to the Duval County jail deaths, a request for comment Wednesday afternoon from the Sheriff’s Office and the FDOH was not immediately returned.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has lost two employees related to COVID-19: a veteran lieutenant who died in August and a reserve officer who died in January. Both were considered line-of-duty deaths.

About the Authors:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.