A local attorney is asking a judge to reconsider a client's one-year jail sentence, citing "cruel and unusual punishment," after his client contracted COVID-19 in the Hamilton County Jail and has not received daily medication for a pre-existing condition that, if left untreated, could become deadly, according to court documents.
Motions filed by attorney Chad Wilson also allege a failure to follow guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the downtown jail and Silverdale Detention Center by not requiring staff to wear masks and not providing inmates with masks, hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies or allowing them to properly socially distance.
Wilson argues the alleged negligence has caused COVID-19 to "rapidly and extensively" spread among the facilities, as evidenced by the daily number of defendants whose cases are being reset due to them being quarantined in the jails.
Spokespeople for both the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and CoreCivic, the private company that operates the Silverdale facility, have denied a failure to take COVID-19 precautionary measures.
"All inmates at Silverdale are provided with masks. Any assertion otherwise is false," CoreCivic spokesperson Steve Owen said in an emailed statement, in bold and underlined text.
"And like all CoreCivic facilities, Silverdale is adhering to the latest CDC recommendations for cleaning and disinfection, social distancing and the issuance and use of personal protective equipment," he continued in regular font.
As of Nov. 25, 36 inmates and 20 employees at Silverdale have tested positive for the virus since the first case was confirmed, according to the sheriff's office.
At the time of the first motion — Nov. 17 — Wilson's client, Tommie Lyons, was being held in a group with at least one other inmate who was being treated for tuberculosis and several others with COVID-19, the document states.
Lyons, 40, pleaded guilty on Oct. 28 to a number of misdemeanor charges, including theft, reckless endangerment and evading arrest. Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Lila Statom sentenced him to serve 11 months and 29 days at Silverdale.
That same day, Lyons learned he tested positive for COVID-19.
"Worthy of note, and indicative of general medical neglect and general deliberate indifference on the part of the Hamilton County Jail," Wilson argues, is the lack of notification to him, the judge or other court personnel of a direct exposure to COVID-19.
By Nov. 11, Lyons was transferred to Silverdale. And between then and Nov. 17, he was given only four doses of a medication which he's been prescribed to take daily, according to the motion.
"Mr. Lyons retains his constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment," Wilson argues. "The failure to provide Mr. Lyons with his [medication] as prescribed will result, as direct cause, in Mr. Lyon's [condition] worsening and ultimately developing [a more severe condition]."
For those reasons, Wilson writes, Lyon's "current sentence in this matter [is] manifestly unjust."
CoreCivic declined to comment on specific inmate medical conditions or treatment, citing medical privacy laws. But Owen did say, "Silverdale is equipped for and does provide a wide range of on-site health care services including the administration of prescribed medications."
In Tennessee, defendants have up to 120 days to file what's called a Rule 35 motion to reduce a sentence, though the sentence can only be reduced to one the court could have originally imposed. Rule 35 applies only in circumstances in which "an alteration of the sentence may be proper in the interests of justice."
Judge Statom denied Wilson's motion three days later, on Nov. 20, citing that Lyons had entered a plea agreement in exchange for lesser charges and without addressing his health concerns. She directed him to the district attorney's office if he would like to withdraw from his plea agreement.
Wilson has since appealed that denial, and Criminal Court Judge Don Poole will hear the case on Dec. 8.
In his order agreeing to hear the case, Poole wrote that, if true, the allegations in the motion and Lyon's apparent contraction of COVID-19 while in the jail suggests that mitigation measures "were and are insufficiently protective not only of inmates but of staff and the entire community to which inmates and staff return."
Poole noted that, according to case law, entering a plea deal does not mean the defendant has waived the right to file a Rule 35 motion. It's possible, but only in exceptional circumstances, he wrote, citing case law.
For example, if unforeseen developments arise after sentencing — such as a lack of access to prescribed medication — it could warrant a modification.
Poole also noted the motion doesn't specify whether Lyons was aware of his positive COVID-19 test at the time of his guilty pleas or whether he had any reason to believe that, allegedly unlike the county jail, Silverdale would follow CDC guidelines.
But, Poole wrote, it was reasonable for Lyons to assume he would continue to receive his medication as prescribed, and if the problem persists and for some reason can't be fixed, it would warrant relief.
Contact Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.