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Staff photo by Doug Strickland / A portion of the main exercise yard and a detention ward are seen Tuesday, June 30, 2015, at Silverdale Correctional Facility in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A majority of Silverdale Detention Center employees have been seen either not wearing a mask at all or only below the chin, and most inmates did not have masks, according to court testimony on Friday from two lawyers who recently visited their clients.

The hearing came after attorney Chad Wilson filed a motion seeking to have his client Tommie Lyons' one-year jail sentence amended after learning Lyons contracted COVID-19 in the Hamilton County Jail and has not been receiving his prescribed daily medication and weekly blood work for a potentially deadly pre-existing condition, something Silverdale's health services administrator admitted, though the administrator blamed Lyons and an oversight in paperwork.

During the Friday hearing, attorney Hilary Hodgkins said she visited one of her clients at Silverdale on Dec. 10. On that day, some administrative staff were wearing masks, she said. But she only saw one guard properly wearing a mask.

"When I went to see my client, I had to go into the segregation [unit], and that is deep within Silverdale — I think we had to buzz through five different doors," she said. "I could see inmates looking out the windows at me, and none of them had masks on. The guard that accompanied me back there, not only did she not have a mask on, she was eating a Pop Tart as we walked through the facility ... My client was — I brought a mask for him, and the guard put that on him before they brought him out."

Another attorney, Brandy Spurgin-Floyd, said she last visited a client at Silverdale on Nov. 30.

"The person that was working the front desk was wearing her mask as far as I can recall," she said. But once she was inside and saw other people, including staff, entering the facility, "I noticed probably more than half of those were not wearing a mask except that they were around their ears and their chins."

Freida Thompson, Silverdale's health services administrator, also testified that she has seen staff not wearing masks.

"A lot of times it's in their pocket or is around their chin," she said.

CoreCivic, the private company that operates the Silverdale facility, has said it "disagree[s] with those claims."

"Face masks are provided to all staff and those in our care," CoreCivic spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist said in an emailed statement. "Staff are required to wear masks at all times unless they are eating or drinking. Individuals in our care are required to wear masks when outside of their assigned living areas (unless they are eating or drinking.)"

Any staff not in compliance with the requirement "are subject to disciplinary action," she said.

Gilchrist did not respond to questions about what that disciplinary action entails.

When Wilson asked Thompson how the requirement is enforced among staff, she said, "I get a mask and I give it to them, or I ask them why they don't have one."

Thompson said inmates are given a paper mask upon intake, and "at any point in time, inmates can ask for another mask. We have tons of masks here."

In Lyons' case, Thompson said he didn't disclose to the nurse that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 before arriving at Silverdale. It's not clear at what point Lyons became aware of his positive test.

As for his medication, Thompson first told Criminal Court Judge Don Poole that Lyons is scheduled to receive his medication twice a day. But he hasn't received it on some days "because he has refused to come to the pill call," Thompson said.

"He just has to get up from his bed — or wherever he's located in his pod — [and] either go to the door or go close to the door," she said. "A lot of times the nurses bring the pill cart to the doorway of the housing unit."

Wilson then asked if inmates are required to sign any paperwork when refusing to take medication.

"Yes, but sometimes if they don't come to the pill call, we take that as a refusal," she said.

"It's an assumption, not act of refusal that's agreed to and signed by him," Wilson noted. "Has he signed any of them?"

"Not that I have," Thompson responded.

As far as Lyons' doctor-ordered weekly blood work, Thompson initially told Poole that Lyons had not had blood drawn for the past month but did on Thursday after first allegedly refusing to do so.

Weekly tests hadn't been ordered when he first arrived, she told Poole. "If it was, we were not aware."

Upon further questioning, though, Thompson disclosed that the doctor first ordered the weekly tests "probably a couple of weeks ago."

"So it's your testimony is that Silverdale knew he was supposed to have it drawn weekly, correct? And that they didn't do it weekly. They waited until yesterday?" Wilson asked.

"Yes," Thompson responded.

With that, Wilson told Poole he believed the conditions at Silverdale were a violation of his client's and other inmates' constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

"We have testimony from the medical director. We have testimony from attorneys showing that the simple, common thing that can be enforced, at least with the employees, is that, whenever possible, they will wear a mask to decrease the risk of exposure [of COVID-19] to themselves, their family, the community, but most of all, in this case, the inmates," he argued.

Poole said it'll be difficult to rule on the issues regarding COVID-19 protocols and that he was "not convinced that he at least is not getting the ... medication as required."

"I was concerned then. I am concerned now. And I will be concerned until a final decision is made, and he gets that treatment. I want him treated for that pre-existing condition," Poole said.

"But as [Thompson] indicates, things are going to change in the next couple of weeks," he added, referencing plans for the county to take over management of Silverdale and to close the downtown jail and combine both facilities by the end of the year.

An update hearing will be held on Jan. 8.

Contact Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327, rhughes@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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