Vigo County Jail’s COVID-19 response under public scrutiny following inmate death

Local News

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) – Following concerns over COVID-19 in the Vigo County jail, Wednesday, local demonstrators spoke out about the situation.

Wednesday evening, the sound of car horns filled the air surrounding the Vigo County jail. This noise was created by protestors concerned with COVID-19’s impact within the facility.

“It’s bad enough I have to call my mother and tell her that her son is in jail again but I don’t want to have to make a phone call saying ‘Well he’s not safe now,'” said Chavon Burkins, sister of Vigo County inmate.

These demonstrations come after inmate Frederick Whitlock died at the Vigo County jail on Friday. After his death, Whitlock then tested positive for COVID-19.

Some protestors say they believe not is enough being done to prevent the spread of the virus and on Wednesday provided a list of demands.

“Our demands are to secure an independent investigation from an agency outside the sheriff’s department into the death of Frederick Whitlock, to provide for a full autopsy of Frederick Whitlock at a facility that is conducting autopsies of COVID positive patients,” said Emma Crossen, demonstrator.

In terms of the death, Sheriff John Plasse says his staff put forth every effort during their response.

“The guards were there and they responded immediately, contacted an ambulance to get here and unfortunately all their efforts were in vain, there was nothing that we could do,” Plasse said.

Following notification that Whitlock was positive, Plasse says all staff and inmates were then tested for COVID. The results showed that 102 inmates additional were also positive, representing around 30 percent of the jail population. Two staff members also contracted the virus.

“We’ve been overcrowded for years, that’s a significant contributing factor. We cant’ afford to social distance, we don’t have the space,” Plasse said.

In late August, Plasse says a mandate required his staff to wear masks but inmates were not due to advice from health officials.

“The guidance we received was if we mask everybody all the time, it’s going to lead to respiratory issues with the inmates,” Plasse said.

Since Friday, inmates have now been given masks but the sheriff says the choice to wear one still remains with the individual.

According to Plasse to prevent further outbreak, the state department of health has advised the jail to lockdown all inmates and group positive cases together.

“We’re going to try to minimize or eliminate any future spread than what we have now, try to isolate that, and hopefully the ones who don’t have it now won’t get it,” Plasse said.

The Vigo County coroner says at this time the cause of death for Frederick Whitlock has not been determined.

She also says Whitlock did not receive an internal autopsy due to the county and state not having the proper facility required during the pandemic.

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